Google told to modify autocomplete search feature in Japan over privacy complaint [Updated]

Google told to modify autocomplete search feature in Japan over privacy complaint [Updated]

A Japanese court has issued a provisional order requesting Google to delete specific terms from autocomplete, following a complaint from a man claiming it violates his privacy and has hampered his career.

The challenge, which is said to be the first against the feature, centres around the results that show when entering the man’s name into the search engine in Japanese. According to a report from Mainichi Daily News, his name — which is undisclosed — generates more than 10,000 words that are defaming or disparaging of him.

Update below with additional comment from Google.

It is this association, the man claims, that saw him lose his job several years ago and has seen him struggle with future employment since. The implications of automcomplete go beyond the case and could affect others, his lawyer, Hiroyuki Tomita, points out:

It could lead to irretrievable damage such as a loss of job or bankruptcy just by showing search results that constitute defamation or a violation of the privacy of an individual person or small and medium-sized companies.

In a bid to fix the issue, the man contacted Google last year with a request to have the negative words removed and disassociated with his name, however Google declined. The company argued that the matches are made mechanically and not intentionally, and therefore do not violate his privacy.

Tomita is reported to have revealed that Google said that it would not suspend the autocomplete feature as it is US-headquartered and therefore not subject to being regulated by Japanese law.

Google decline to comment on the specifics when contacted by The Next Web, although it did provide a reminder that words matched by the service are selected organically:

Autocomplete is a feature of Google search that offers predicted searches to help you more quickly find what you’re looking for. These searches are produced by a number of objective factors including popularity of search terms. Google does not determine these terms manually–all of the queries shown in Autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users.

Alongside Yahoo — which is powered by Google in Japan — the Mountain View-based firm is Japan’s most used search engine and the Internet’s most reputed. The case raises interesting issues worldwide, as Google search is a popular method that allows employers to find information about existing or prospective employees.

Earlier this month, Japanese authorities warned Google to be careful that changes around its new privacy policy don’t see it violate the country’s strict privacy laws but, ironically, it is an existing feature that it causing trouble in the country.

Update: Google has confirmed that is is reviewing the order in an email:

A Japanese court issued a provisional order requesting Google to delete specific terms from Autocomplete. Google is currently reviewing the order.

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