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Japan Court Asks Google To Turn Off Auto-Complete For Search

4 MINUTE READ | March 26, 2012

Japan Court Asks Google To Turn Off Auto-Complete For Search

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Kerry Dean

Kerry Dean has written this article. More details coming soon.

Kerry Dean meteorologist? I wish!

Kerry Dean meteorologist? I wish!

Have you ever typed your name into the Google search box just to see the auto-complete suggestions? You should try it. You might learn something about yourself. When I search my name, I typically see ‘kerry dean seo’, ‘kerry dean photography’ or ‘kerry dean fort worth’. It just depends what letter I type after my name. But what if Google displayed ‘kerry dean criminal history’? That would not be good…at least for me. And as it turns out, something very similar is happening to a dude in Japan. And his lawyer has requested that Google suspends the auto-complete function, claiming that the auto-complete suggestions link him to crimes he did not commit.

His lawyer claims that this is a privacy issue. Oh good – another issue related to privacy concerns and Google. So how does Google respond? From the article: “Google has so far refused to take action, saying Japanese law does not apply to its US headquarters and its own corporate privacy policy.”

Obviously, I’m not a criminal – unless being handsome is a crime! I kid. I kid. But seriously, if Google added those keywords to the auto-complete suggestions for my name in the search box, I would be a little upset. I mean, what if I was looking for a job, and some HR person decided to do a little research on me? They would see ‘criminal history’ associated with my name. That would not help my chances at employment.

But can we possibly ask Google – or any other search engine for that matter – to turn off auto-complete? Well, we could ask, but I don’t think Google would change anything. And why should they? The guy in this story just has bad luck. Some other guy out there has his name and committed some crimes. That happens to a lot of people. It’s just the nature of having shared, similar and same names.

And thinking about it from the other side: it’s also likely that “bad” people actually benefit from auto-complete. Just imagine that right now there is some drug-dealin’ low-life who is applying for a job, and maybe the HR person is doing some research. If there are other people out there with the same name as that low-life drug dealer, then there is a very good chance that his criminal record will *NOT* show up in the search results. Maybe there is one guy out there with the same name who is extremely successful and has a ton of online press. In this case, the “bad” guy is benefiting from the auto-complete. Hey, it probably happens.

And what if we took this same idea to image search. If I do a search for my name on Google Image Search, I see some pictures of me, but mostly it’s pictures of other people with my name. One is a picture of a topless girl taken by a UK photographer with my name. One is a mugshot of some dude with my name. Awesome. But wait. Those people are not me. Should Google be forced to only show pictures of me? No way. That would be ridiculous…and impossible. If we ask Google to suspend auto-complete, how far does it go? Are we supposed to turn off search altogether? I hope not. At that point, we’d be censoring the Internet because people have similar and/or same names. That wouldn’t be fair to any of us.

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Maybe this guy just needs to spend a few thousand dollars on some reputation management. Maybe he needs to spend $1,000 on MechanicalTurk to have an army of people search for his name with some other words, preferably words that have a positive connotation. It may seem crazy, but I have actually read about that method working. At any rate, good luck!

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