Google Faces Autocomplete Lawsuit From Former First Lady Of Germany

bettina-wulffGoogle may be in trouble again over the automated suggestions that its Autocomplete feature provides to searchers.

According to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung (and also reported by TechCrunch), Bettina Wulff — wife of the country’s former president, Christian Wulff — is suing Google because Autocomplete suggests prostitution-related terms when a searcher types her name into Google’s search box. (The couple are shown in the photo above.)

Indeed, searches this afternoon on both Google.de and Google.com reference terms like “escort” and “prostitute” in the Autocomplete suggestions.

bettina-wulff-google

German reports say that rumors began to surface in 2010, just days before the presidential election, that Wulff had previously worked as an escort before she met her husband. Wulff elected not to acknowledge the rumors during her husband’s time in office but, now that he’s out of office (since February), she’s submitted to the court a signed affidavit denying the allegations.

In her lawsuit, Wulff wants the court to prevent Google from showing the derogatory terms next to searches for her name.

Google has twice lost similar lawsuits in France — first in January 2010 when the French word for “scam” was showing in Autocomplete next to a company’s name, and again in September 2010 when the words “rapist” and “satanist” showed in suggestions for an individual’s name. Google also lost an Autocomplete case in Italy last year, and settled a case with an Irish hotel.

(Stock image via vipflash / Shutterstock.com. Used under license.)

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Legal | Google: Outside US | Google: Suggest | Legal: Censorship

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About The Author: is Editor-In-Chief of Search Engine Land. His news career includes time spent in TV, radio, and print journalism. His web career continues to include a small number of SEO and social media consulting clients, as well as regular speaking engagements at marketing events around the U.S. He recently launched a site dedicated to Google Glass called Glass Almanac and also blogs at Small Business Search Marketing. Matt can be found on Twitter at @MattMcGee and/or on Google Plus. You can read Matt's disclosures on his personal blog.

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  • Dr Janice Duffy

    Google
    removed the defamatory autocomplete referring to a Irish hotel in November 2011
    after a conciliation conference at the Irish Court. This is the original story
    (complete with screenshots): http://searchengineland.com/irish-hotel-sues-google-for-defamation-over-autocomplete-suggestion-81492

    A subsequent
    search for the hotel on all Google local domains shows that
    the defamatory word ‘receivership’ has been removed from the autocomplete.
    In a nutshell, the case settled and Google made it go away because, well, they
    can.

    In my
    case, because I am suing Google, the defamatory autocomplete not only remains
    on all local domains but is now a Google AdWords keyword.
    Google does what it wishes and I cannot do anything about this at the present
    time. Currently, we are in discovery and we have asked for
    information that the defendants will likely not want to produce. However, the
    court will order the disclosure of documents pertaining to the Google algorithm
    in due course and Google will have to comply because of the defence that they
    have pleaded.

    In the
    meantime, more power to Bettina Wulff. I will certainly contact
    her representatives and offer some information.

  • Branislav Blesák

    Should Google really be held responsible for showing what people search for? These people suing Google can´t differentiate between cause and effect. Google´s autosuggest only reflects public opinion. Instead of throwing money at lawyers they should hire online reputation management experts.

  • Maurice Walshe

    Yes just becase a minority of people think say that Negro should be spelt with two G’s – doesnt mean it would be right or a good idea to feature it as an complete for a certain American polatician – liekwise Anti semitic slurs for say french presindents.

    “an algorithem did it” is not defence that will stand up in court – auto complete is a nightmare and is an example why just becase you can do somthing doesnt mean you should atomaticaly do it.

  • http://blog.clayburngriffin.com/ Clayburn Griffin

    I can’t believe they lose these lawsuits. This is not editorial content. It’s not subject to being libel. And even if it was, it’s an affront to free speech.

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