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'Bankrupt' Australian Surgeon Sues Google For Auto-Complete 305

Posted by Soulskill
from the why-is-google-so dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Australian surgeon Guy Hingston is suing Google in the U.S. for 'auto-complete' defamation. Typing in his name brings up 'Guy Hingston bankrupt' in the auto-complete. The association seems to have come about because Hingston purchased an aviation group CoastJet which went bankrupt two-and-a-half years later. Hingston himself was also bankrupted. Hingston claims this association has cost him customers and is suing Google for $75k, plus court costs. Google has often found itself the target of litigation over auto-complete searches. Are auto-complete results even useful? Should Google be policing the auto-complete suggestions?"
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'Bankrupt' Australian Surgeon Sues Google For Auto-Complete

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  • Re:Libel? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by LordLucless (582312) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @01:26AM (#42665943)

    The summary leaves out that Hingston's bankruptcy was subsequently annulled.

    Google is only reporting on the associated between "Hingston" and "bankrupt" because other people have made that association, either by typing it into Google, or by publishing it on sites that Google indexes. Personally, I think this sort of activity should be protected - "other people have typed "Hingston bankrupt" into Google" is a fact, regardless of whether Hingston is, or ever was, bankrupt.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by neonmonk (467567) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @02:08AM (#42666263)

    He didn't. His personal bankruptcy was annulled.

    But even if he did go bankrupt from the CoastJet business failing, should that be broadcast to everyone as soon as they even type in his name into Google? It's completely out of context. He didn't go bankrupt from being sued by patients. He didn't go bankrupt by gambling his money at the casino (although buying into aviation at this stage of the game could be argued as riskier) - the guy is being punished needlessly.

    Does this have to go to a lawsuit though? Why can't Google seem to moderate themselves effectively? You should be able to fill out a form saying "Google autocomplete is being mean to me" and Google decides whether or not it makes sense to remove said autocomplete. It shouldn't be hard. Simple common sense.

    I don't know what the case here is, but if he did try to contact Google then I'm sure they ignored him completely as they are wont to do.

    Anyone who claims this is about freedom of speech are being ridiculous. Should people be able to buy billboard space around the world and declare to the world that you are pedophile? Or something true, a compulsive masturbator? What makes a Google autocomplete any different?

  • The amusing part... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by synir (731266) <arkandel@gmaiEULERl.com minus math_god> on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @02:08AM (#42666269)
    You know what's amusing? Through this lawsuit (and the good ol' Streisand effect) being reported all over the internet under the title "Guy Hingston... ... bankrupt" he's more or less ensuring the propagation of these terms' association while at the same time, since he likely has no viable legal case here, getting nothing back from Google.

    I'd bet neither of those results were what he was hoping for.
  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pseudonym (62607) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @02:18AM (#42666327)

    I'm not sure that Google autocomplete is the place to draw the line, but you do raise a good point. You have to think about this in the context of big data and modern government and corporate surveillance.

    We all know the stories of people being placed on TSA watchlists, arrested, interrogated, and even tortured for having a similar name to a bad guy [wikipedia.org] or being the second cousin of a bad guy [wikipedia.org].

    People's actions can be chilled or even lives ruined by very tenuous associations in databases. And whether through the Erdos/Bacon game, the assumption that correlation is the same as causation, or plain old coincidence, data mining can uncover associations which are false or misleading, even if they are statistically significant.

    Now we may argue that people shouldn't base decisions on associations made by Google's machine learning algorithms. It is, ultimately, the responsibility of the person making the decision to evaluate the strength of the evidence rationally. In a perfect world, where everyone is perfectly sane and rational, and no snap judgments ever have to be made, we could assume this.

    Meanwhile, back in the real world, these databases exist and are used. So how much responsibility should be placed on those maintaining the databases for making sure that the contents are accurate, particularly clearing up a mistake when it is pointed out? Is there additional responsibility if the database is accessible to the public?

    It's a very interesting question, and I don't know the answer.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TapeCutter (624760) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @03:56AM (#42666801) Journal

    Should people be able to buy billboard space around the world and declare to the world that you are pedophile? Or something true, a compulsive masturbator? What makes a Google autocomplete any different?

    Unlike a billboard google just displays the most common search terms, it's a statistical fact, not an endorsement.

    Anyone who claims this is about freedom of speech are being ridiculous.

    Anyone who claims that google auto-complete reflects google's opinion is also being ridiculous. Having said that I do agree with the rest of your post, I like the basic concept of the "right to be forgotten", I also think there should be some mechanism whereby a person can demand their name be removed from a commercial search index with no questions asked other than proof of identity. OTOH I'm not sure how well that would work out in practice with common names.

  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ArsenneLupin (766289) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @04:43AM (#42666957)

    Why can't Google seem to moderate themselves effectively? You should be able to fill out a form saying "Google autocomplete is being mean to me" and Google decides whether or not it makes sense to remove said autocomplete

    Exactly. And this should be a plain form, which you can fill out without having to get a google+ account, and without having to install boatloads of spyware onto your computer. When complaining about abuse, you shouldn't have to agree to more abuse...

    Also, a manned e-mail address for general complaints and/or suggestions would help too. Currently, google is very hard to reach.

    Yes, they probably would have many many mails sent to that address, due to their sheer size alone. But that same size should allow them to have the resources available to staff that email address appropriately.

  • Re:Libel? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Spy Handler (822350) on Wednesday January 23, 2013 @04:48AM (#42666983) Homepage Journal

    Suppose people type your name into Google, and the autosuggestion that comes up is:

    {your name} masturbates to {your preferred} porn

    It's true, so it can't be libelous right?

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