When you search for “Bettina Wulff” on Google, the search engine will happily autocomplete this search with terms like “escort” and “prostitute.” That’s obviously not something you would like to be associated with your name, so the wife of former German president Christian Wulff has now, according to Germany’s Süddeutschen Zeitung, decided to sue Google for defamation. The reason why these terms appear in Google’s autocomplete is that there have been persistent rumors that Wulff worked for an escort service before she met her husband. Wulff categorically denies that this is true.
German’s former first lady now wants to ensure that Google stops autocompleting searches for her name with these terms. The rumors, she claims according to the German newspaper’s report, are “defamation” and have “destroyed her reputation.” For the most part, of course, Google suggestions just reflect how widespread these rumors are on the Internet. Google’s algorithms, after all, make these suggestions based on its analysis of what the majority of Internet users search for.
This, of course, isn’t the first time Google has faced similar issues with autocomplete. Just this June, for example, a number of French groups accused the company of violating French anti-discrimination laws after Google’s autocomplete started suggesting the term “juif” (Jewish) to complete searches for a number of prominent media figures and celebrities. Google settled with these groups.
In Japan, a man recently filed a suit against Google after the autocomplete feature started linking his names with a number of crimes he says he wasn’t involved in. A court in Japan then ordered Google to delete these terms from autocomplete. Google also lost a similar suit in Italy in 2011.
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Google provides search and advertising services, which together aim to organize and monetize the world’s information. In addition to its dominant search engine, it offers a plethora of online tools and platforms including: Gmail, Maps, YouTube, and Google+, the company’s extension into the social space. Most of its Web-based products are free, funded by Google’s highly integrated online advertising platforms AdWords and AdSense. Google promotes the idea that advertising should be highly targeted and relevant to users thus providing...