Jon Hamm & Rupert Murdoch Victims of Bogus Google Scandal

SOS Racisme, a French NGO that fights discrimination, has accused Google of reinforcing the notion of an international Jewish conspiracy to control the media. Where did they get this idea? From autocomplete suggestions in search.

If people around the world are constantly searching for “Rupert Murdoch Jewish” or “Jon Hamm Jewish,” those queries are more likely to show up in autocomplete. Rupert Murdoch and Jon Hamm aren’t Jewish. SOS Racisme thinks that this is anti-Semitic, that it is Google’s fault, and that Google should censor these results.

Google’s autocomplete feature makes search faster by suggesting popular queries as you type. Ironically, by calling attention to this issue, SOS Racisme inspires more people to search for these things, causing them to rise even higher in the ranks.

Blaming Google for Its Users

This should be obvious, but Google doesn’t make these associations itself. Autocomplete suggestions are “produced by a number of factors, including the popularity of search terms,” a Google spokesperson tells ReadWriteWeb. “Google does not determine these terms manually - all of the queries shown in autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users.”

But opponents want Google to manually filter autocomplete to remove offensive suggestions. Google has a narrow set of policies in place to filter out “pornography, violence, hate speech, and copyright infringement.” It doesn’t mess with autocomplete for any other reason. Even though offended parties have sued over autocomplete several times, Google doesn’t want to compromise the feature.

In a previous case in France, Google was actually forced to pay a $65,000 fine because autocomplete inserted the word “escroc” (“crook”) into queries about a French insurance company. Google lost a similar case in Italy around the same time, but Google spokespeople still give the same response they gave at the time of the ruling, indicating that Google isn’t doing much about it.

Most recently, Google was ordered by a Japanese court to remove a man’s name from autocomplete because, he alleged, search suggestions “defaming or disparaging him” got him fired and prevented him from getting a new job. “Google is currently reviewing the order,” spokespeople say, and that’s all they say.

There’s No Right Answer

This must be such a pain for Google. It built autocomplete because it makes searching faster, which is what users want. But unfortunately, as Google’s designers know all too well, users get comfortable with its features after awhile and stop appreciating them. They only notice the features again when they stop working. For instance, if autocomplete insinuates that you’re a criminal, you’d notice that.

But suing Google over it is just such a sad response. There’s no right answer. You can’t just ignore it, because other people will see it when they search for you. But Google isn't responsible for its users' searches, and it shouldn't have to manually limit the usefulness of its features for individual reasons.

In the latest case of "Rupert Murdoch Jewish," autocomplete reveals a strange question asked by lots of people. Rupert Murdoch and Jon Hamm are not Jewish. But what is the objection here? Should Google have to block every autocomplete suggestion that's factually incorrect? That's impossible. If it's simply the association of major media figures with the word "Jewish," this one group's sensitivity to the subject doesn't invalidate the search queries of others. If it was "hate speech," Google would block it. But there's no such clear motive here.

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