An Irish hotel is pursuing legal action against Google over an Autocomplete option that suggests the hotel could be going into receivership.
The Ballymascanlon Hotel, in Dundalk, County Louth, is believed to have taken umbrage at the suggestion the hotel could be going into receivership, after receiving tearful telephone calls from brides-to-be, who had booked the hotel for their wedding:
This is believed to be the first case of this kind in Ireland, but Google has recently lost similar cases elsewhere in the world. Last year, a convicted sex offender in France successfully sued the Internet giant for libel, after he noticed his name appearing in the search engine accompanied by words such as ‘convicted’ and ‘satanist’. And in April, an Italian court also found against Google in a defamation case, after an Italian entrepreneur’s name appeared in Autocomplete suggestions alongside words such as ‘con man’ and ‘fraud’.
Using this as the precedent, then The Ballymascanlon Hotel has every chance of succeeding in this case. However, as law lecturer TJ Mcintyre notes on his blog, it seems that Google Ireland has been named as the defendant in this case, whereas Google’s search functions might technically be run by Google Inc., California. This distinction could prove pivotal in the case, as The Red Cross found when it tried to identify a blogger hosted on Google’s blogspot. The Red Cross eventually sought permission to exchange Google Ireland with Google Inc. as the defendant, and permission was granted.
The Internet is certainly throwing up some very interesting legal cases. In this instance, Google’s Autocomplete feature is an algorithm based on popular searches – so it seems that people ARE searching to see whether the hotel in question is in receivership. And if you’re a couple about to spend a lot of money on your dream day, it would seem that this is a perfectly valid enquiry to make. But there is absolutely no evidence, anywhere, of the hotel in question being threatened with receivership.
So it’s understandable that the hotel would wish to have this search option filtered out. Does this amount to censorship? Technically, maybe, but given the detrimental impact this Autocomplete option could have on the hotel, through no fault of its own, it is a reasonable request. And it’s important to stress, that it’s not the search results themselves that would be censored, merely the suggestion – so people are still perfectly able to search for this term, Google’s algorithm simply won’t be putting the idea in people’s heads.