Google Instant: Influential or Controlled?

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By Rachel Smith
on 8/4/11

Back in September 2010 Google introduced ‘Google Instant’ which was a search enhancement that shows results as you type – More info here. But today it has been confirmed that an unnamed Italian businessman has successfully sued Google for showing results including ‘conman’ and ‘fraud’ when his name is typed into Google. By winning the case Google have been ordered to remove the terms ‘truffatore’ (conman) and ‘truffa’ (fraud) that appeared when the businessman’s name was entered into Google and pay €3,800 (£3,330) in damage and legal costs.

The defendant’s lawyer stated that his client ‘has a public image both as an entrepreneur and provider of educational services in the field of personal finance’. But Google came back with ‘We believe that Google should not be held liable for terms that appear in autocomplete as these are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users not be Google itself’.

So do Google have an argument? Is this not just another censorship on freedom of speech? In my opinion, Google do have an argument because, yes. Although Google instant is influential to what you search for, as a result of the amount of people that search for similar terms, isn’t this just the same as word of mouth where the more you hear about something the more it is likely to influences your activities. The Italians lawyer stated the business man has an image, but in this case it obviously isn’t a very good one.

Everyone has stories about themselves, which may be true or false, but if people know about it word gets around. So you can either choose to make things right and build up your reputation or be a ‘Winner’ like Charlie Sheen and let people think what they want.

So if you type in the unnamed Italian businessman’s name into Google and suggestions include ‘conman’ or ‘fraud’ people must have searched for this preciously, so the chances are the businessman either is a conman or has built a reputation of being a conman wrongly through other forms of media which are seen to be perfectly acceptable.

Fair enough with the rules against ‘pornography, violence and hate speech’ but surely Google should have the right to display the opinions of people, just the same as Twitter.

This is likely to be followed by many more similar cases, so has this just opened a can of worms for Google, Twitter and any other site where anyone can type in what they want and gets viewed by others?