Irish Hotel Sues Google For Defamation Over Autocomplete Suggestion


A popular Irish hotel has sued Google for defamation because Google’s autocomplete feature suggests to searchers that the hotel is in receivership.

Searchers looking for the Ballymascanlon Hotel — a four-star property that’s reportedly one of the most popular wedding venues in northeast Ireland and is not in financial trouble — see “ballymascanlon hotel receivership” as an autocomplete suggestion as soon as they’ve typed only eight letters of the hotel name. According to a recent Sunday Times article (quoted here by TJ McIntyre), some brides have contacted the hotel “in tears” after seeing the autocomplete suggestion, no doubt fearing that their wedding plans would have to be scrapped.

As Mark Collier writes, the hotel isn’t seeking punitive damages from Google; the suit only asks for an injunction to stop Google from showing the autocomplete suggestion about receivership, and for Google to pay the hotel’s legal fees.

Collier also details how the hotel made multiple attempts to contact Google about the issue and resolve it away from court – beginning with online channels and eventually escalating to attorney’s letters and even including the autocomplete problem in a DMCA complaint filed in March.

Previous Autocomplete Cases

Google has already faced similar complaints in other countries, and hasn’t fared well in the courts. The company lost two cases last year in France; see our articles Google Loses French Lawsuit Over Google Suggest and Google Convicted Again In France Over Google Suggest.

Earlier this year, Google also lost cases in Italy and Argentina.

How Autocomplete Works

Google has explained many time that autocomplete suggestions come from actual search activity. In Danny Sullivan’s article, How Google Instant’s Autocomplete Suggestions Work, the company commented on the Italian case I mentioned above:

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 by Google itself.

But Google’s argument that autocomplete suggestions are algorithmic doesn’t seem to stand up to legal scrutiny, perhaps because the company has manually removed piracy-related terms in the past, and its help pages list other cases — pornography, violence, hate speech, etc. — where suggestions will be removed.

I’m certainly not a lawyer, nor do I play one on Search Engine Land. So, whether that happens again in Ireland is anyone’s guess at this point.

(Thanks to Mark Collier for tipping us to this story. If you have news tips to share, please contact us.)

Related Topics: Channel: SEO | Google: Legal | Google: Suggest | Legal: Censorship | Top News


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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  • R Law

    Interesting read, I can see both sides of the coin. The irony being all this online publicity is probably just strengthening the predictive text as SEL other blogs report on the story :)
    Online snowball.

  • Tom Whitwell

    Interesting thread on this case here in the google webmaster forums: in which someone spots this page: which seems to have been designed specifically to drive “Ballymascanlon Hotel Receivership” traffic

  • Rick Vidallon

    Ballymascanlon Hotel has opened a virtual SEO can-o-worms and is most likely to get marketed by every reputation management looking for a quick buck. If you Google ‘ballymascanlon hotel receivership’ the first result is a lively discussion over Google forums. ~ Let is all join in the fray?

  • russofford

    “[Auto-suggest terms] are predicted by computer algorithms based on searches from previous users, not by Google itself”

    What if these users are gaming Google’s system by paying a service like Mechanical Turk to sabotage competitor’s search terms by repeatedly searching a defamatory search phrase?

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