Google’s auto-complete can be a very handy feature, but it’s also getting them into more and more trouble. Due to what you might consider “unfortunate” or maybe even “libelous” pairings, a Japanese court has ordered Google to shut down their auto-complete feature, and an Italian man has filed a suit of his own. Now, a French anti-discrimination group is getting in on the action too. SOS Racism is suing Google over auto-complete results not because they cast subjects in a negative light, but rather because they suggest that subjects of certain searches are Jewish.
The two examples SOS Racism users are Rupert Murdoch and Mad Men‘s Jon Hamm. In fact, if you hop over to Google now and search either of them you’ll find that autocomplete does in fact pair both names with the search term “Jewish.” An SOS Racisme lawyer told the Agence French Presse that the auto-completed searches constitute “the creation of what is probably the biggest Jewish file in history.”
If you find yourself wondering what exactly the big deal is, it’s kind of a French thing. In a way, the whole thing seems to imply that association with the word “jewish” is somehow negative, but that actually has nothing to do with it. The real issue here is that France has laws that explicitly outlaw the compilation of “ethnic files” so whereas it may just be distasteful to compile a list of celebrities by religion in the U.S. or elsewhere, it is illegal in France.
It’s worth noting here that Google auto-complete searches aren’t endorsed by Google or really controlled by the company. Instead, they are merely a reflection of what people are searching for. In that way, auto-complete results that consist of “[name] jewish” are more of a symptom of the kind of behavior SOS Racisme is opposed to, not the behavior itself.
In any event, Google is a U.S.-based company, and isn’t compelled to operate under foreign laws. Google’s auto-complete practices are as subject to French law as they are to Japanese law, which is to say they are not subject at all. Google does, however, reign in its auto-complete results slightly, under very specific circumstances, including terms that are related to “pornography, violence, hate speech, and terms that are frequently used to find content that infringes copyrights.” That said, the use of the word “jewish” in this instance probably doesn’t constitute hate speech by Google standards, and is unlikely to be changed. In the meantime, SOS Racisme is perfectly free to file suit anyway.
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