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French Court Frowns On Autocomplete, Tells Google To Remove Searches 343

Posted by timothy
from the la-coste-has-an-esalligator dept.
New submitter Lexx Greatrex writes with this excerpt from Ars Technica: "Google had been sued by insurance company Lyonnaise de Garantie, which was offended by search results including the word 'escroc,' meaning crook, according to a story posted Tuesday by the Courthouse News Service. 'Google had argued that it was not liable since the word, added under Google Suggest, was the result of an automatic algorithm and did not come from human thought,' the article states. 'A Paris court ruled against Google, however, pointing out that the search engine ignored requests to remove the offending word... In addition to the fine, Google must also remove the term from searches associated with Lyonnaise de Garantie.'"
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French Court Frowns On Autocomplete, Tells Google To Remove Searches

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  • What if... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @07:48PM (#38616514)

    Can it be added back in later if we find out that they really are crooks?

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday January 06, 2012 @07:57PM (#38616674) Journal
      What do you mean "if we find out"? This is an insurance company...
      • For profit insurance companies always lose in comparison to mutual companies.That profit margin has got to come from somewhere.

    • by tmosley (996283)
      Pretty much. File this under "the Streisand Effect".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by fatphil (181876)
        A self-requested google bomb, n'est pas?

        Search engines henceforth will now be obliged to associate Lyonnaise de Garantie and crooks, for if they don't they wouldn't be very good search engines. Even if it isn't true that Lyonnaise de Garantie are crooks, they're definitely idiots.

        I refuse to take part in any such gaming, clearly.
  • Corporate origin. Government sponsorship. Plain and simple.
    • by msobkow (48369)

      Demanding that a service provider not automatically slander you is not censorship. Google's white-washing of their control over the algorithms is bullshit. I seriously doubt it's hard for them to flag a word that should NEVER come up during a search; they certainly can ensure through AdWords that a word ALWAYS flags a particular result.

  • I'm sure... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @07:48PM (#38616526)

    ...many other here will say it, but what would the French Court say if Google simply removed Lyonnaise de Garantie's website from *all* their results....

    • Re:I'm sure... (Score:5, Informative)

      by History's Coming To (1059484) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:32PM (#38617074) Journal
      This has happened before. Google were sued over much the same thing, removed *ALL* references to the company in question and were then sued again for not including them.
  • Every time someone rolls out something horrible like this they think it's a wunnerful thing. Well, not tal all of us. I find this stuff causes me to make typos far more often in searches, because of the distraction.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @07:49PM (#38616546)

    Show some balls google.

    Disable everything that is google in France for 1 day and blame it on the court. In 3-6 weeks, when you have a valid fix, silently put that in.

    • Yes, Google. Cut off all of your ad revenue and break every Android phone in France for a day. And see who that hurts worse between Google and France.
    • by Skidborg (1585365) on Friday January 06, 2012 @09:36PM (#38617694)
      You know, cheering for an already absurdly powerful tech company to irresponsibly throw its weight around every time someone steps on its toes seems like... well... a really terrible idea.
      • by pclminion (145572)
        Say you're the only plumber in a town of 1000 people. At a recent town meeting, the motion was passed to declare you "a douchebag." Thus irked, you decide to move to the next town, leaving the name-callers to fend for themselves. Now because you provided a vital service to customers, should you be legally forced to stay in business in town? Is moving out of town "throwing your weight around?"
        • by thegarbz (1787294)

          So he moves to the next town, a town with another plumber who has a history of not abandoning everyone because their feelings are hurt. Would you start a long term business relationship with this plumber?

          The problem with Google is they can't simply shut off France for a day. That would have a long lasting effect on Google and only a short term one on France. Now closing up shop and leaving entirely is something that they can do, but then they would have to repair a lot of damage to their image if they wish

  • Simple Solution (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Nova Express (100383) <lawrenceperson AT gmail DOT com> on Friday January 06, 2012 @07:49PM (#38616552) Homepage Journal

    Whenever French users search for "Lyonnaise de Garantie," Google should just return "Your search - Lyonnaise de Garantie - did not match any documents." And then a list of competing insurance companies.

    There! Problem solved!

    • by ackthpt (218170) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:05PM (#38616774) Homepage Journal

      Whenever French users search for "Lyonnaise de Garantie," Google should just return "Your search - Lyonnaise de Garantie - did not match any documents." And then a list of competing insurance companies.

      There! Problem solved!

      Did you really mean Mayonnaise?

    • Re:Simple Solution (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Phrogman (80473) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:33PM (#38617084) Homepage

      Well if enough stories about this get posted to the web that mention the fact that Lyonnaise de Garantie didn't want its name associated with "escroc" - then google will end up indexing a ton of instances where Lyonnaise de Garantie's name is associated with "escroc". In fact it may be enough instances of "escroc" being associated with Lyonnaise de Garantie, to "guarantee" (pun intended) that it turns up as a common result. I hope this story gets great coverage.

      Leglislating search results is just hopeless.

    • by houghi (78078)

      Great idea. Just let Google wield their power and everybody who is against that must be punished.
      What if Microsoft would do such a thing?

      Google wants to play in other countries? Then play by their rules, no matter how stupid or silly they are. If you are unwilling or unable to do that, then please stop providing service there and close the office in Paris and every other country they are unwilling or unable to give their service by the local laws.

  • by mykos (1627575) on Friday January 06, 2012 @07:50PM (#38616564)
    You want corporate censorship? You got it. Be careful what you wish for.
    • Didn't they do that a few years ago with some papers and such from Belgium, and then they came screaming back about it when their sites dropped around 80% of their traffic? I'm sure I read that here on /. a few days ago, well considering my memory it could have been a few years ago too.

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:32PM (#38617070)

        It's worse. Google was merely complying with a court order--sought by these newspapers themselves--to either pay the newspapers, or stop indexing them. Then, these newspapers lost 80% of their traffic, and decided to grant Google "permission" to disobey the court order they had just won at great expense.

        • Would've been sweet if Google decided to do no evil and heed the verdict to the letter. Sorry, can't do that, the judge has spoken.

          But you may start a lengthy process to nullify that verdict and piss off the court for wasting their time. And if you still exist by the time you have it canceled, we'll put you back on the index.

          Strange. Usually I'm not in favor of monopolies abusing their position...

  • by BeTeK (2035870)
    I have a thought. Google can block France completely...
    • I was going to suggest something similar: remove their physical footprint from that bizarre regime's jurisdiction & put a 'Sorry' page up in place of Google.fr. (French users could go to another French-language-centric Google incarnation, and Google could still index France-specific results from elsewhere.)
  • by blind biker (1066130) on Friday January 06, 2012 @07:52PM (#38616600) Journal

    I don't know whether Lyonnaise de Garantie are crooks, but this is the mother of Streisand effects.

  • But are they? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Friday January 06, 2012 @07:58PM (#38616684) Journal

    Crooks, that is? One really has to wonder how many people they had to screw over for this auto-complete suggestion to be show up. That sort of autocomplete result is usually an indication of a fairly large number of people using those words in the same general context. Even now, the sixth suggestion for them ends with problème....

    Maybe Google's argument should not have been that Google wasn't responsible, but rather that it's not libel if it is true (I'm assuming that this is the case under French law) or that it is not possible to defame something that is already a disgrace....

    More to the point, maybe the company in question should focus more on improving their image by actually improving their customer service instead of just metaphorically wallpapering over the rotting walls. If enough people think they are crooks to cause the Google search results to suggest this for several years in a row, that strongly suggests a very serious problem with the way they do business. I'm not saying that Lyonnaise de Garantie is a bunch of crooks, but they clearly have a serious image problem, and you can't cure that kind of problem by trying to sue people into silence. Doing so can only result in the Streisand Effect.

    • Well, to be fair, all it takes is a story on a board like bash.org or xkcd or something similar that people remember and pull out as an example.

      Try it. Type "little bobby" into the google search bar and guess what the first autocomplete result is.

      • by dgatwood (11270)

        Yeah, but "Little Bobby" is not the name of a major company. There are probably hundreds of thousands of pages (if not millions) that link to or talk about that company. The number of them that use words like "crook" should be pretty low, statistically. The chances of such a word being frequently used in connection with that company due to a fluke or one brilliantly net-savvy person with a grudge should be fairly remote. Unless Google's algorithm absolutely sucks, it's far more likely that a lot of peop

    • by MagicM (85041)

      I'm not saying that Lyonnaise de Garantie is a bunch of crooks

      Google now thinks you did.

  • by dmomo (256005) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:00PM (#38616698) Homepage

    Now "Lyonnaise de Garantie escroc" is a valid Google term, because I may have heard about this ruling and want to read more about it. So, auto-suggesting as such is highly relevant to me.

  • by BrynM (217883) * on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:02PM (#38616734) Homepage Journal

    Frankly, I like having the suggestions pop up (and not just for the fun factor). There have been times that a suggested result reveals the truth of something when the marketing and SEO have worked to whitewash the search results themselves. When people run into problems with a product, they will search for their problem rather than the marketing speak. I wish I could give my real examples, but I'm contractually/legally obligated not to. I'll contrive a working one instead (though the contrived one is not as solid as my real examples...).

    Contrived example: Pop the words "MS Antivirus" into google search. "MS Antivirus" is a name of a piece of malware posing as security software. For me, the third suggested search is "MS Antivirus malware". Without having that there, the search results for "MS Antivirus" that declare it as malware are all below the fold. The results for "MS Antivirus malware" have the wikipedia entry for the malware itself as the first result.

    • For me, the third suggested search is "MS Antivirus malware". Without having that there, the search results for "MS Antivirus" that declare it as malware are all below the fold. The results for "MS Antivirus malware" have the wikipedia entry for the malware itself as the first result.

      Sounds like a limitation of Google's ranking algorithm to me. Shouldn't they fix the ranking, rather than rely on an extral UI layer (aka "suggested search", that may or may not be turned on for a user)?

      If you notice i

  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:03PM (#38616746)

    1. Do enough bad things that people in your country start adding their word for "crook" to searches with your trademark
    2. Sue Google instead of fixing your reputation problem
    3. ?????
    4. Profit!

    • by artor3 (1344997) on Friday January 06, 2012 @09:36PM (#38617696)

      Better plan:

      1. Do enough bad things that people in your country start adding their word for "crook" to searches with your trademark
      2. Sue Google. And Bing and Yahoo and Yelp and so on!
      3. Profit! (through the lawsuits)
      4. Profit more! (because your crappy customer service no longer hurts you now that all review aggregators are forced to hide it)

  • by MLCT (1148749) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:05PM (#38616784)
    Are Lyonnaise de Garantie escroc [lyonnaise-...rantie.com]?

    I don't know whether Lyonnaise de Garantie are crooks [lyonnaise-...rantie.com], but I do know that they tried to censor the web to remove any association between Lyonnaise de Garantie [lyonnaise-...rantie.com] and crooks [lyonnaise-...rantie.com], or as the French say, Lyonnaise de Garantie [lyonnaise-...rantie.com] and escroc [lyonnaise-...rantie.com]. Which is interesting. I wonder what Ms Streisand in her lovely beach house has to say about it all.
  • by gman003 (1693318) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:11PM (#38616846)

    So Lyonnaise de Garantie's website no longer shows up on searches for escroc. But I bet a fortune that "Lyonnaise de Garantie sues to stop being called escrocs" news reports will soon be one of the top search results for "escroc".

    After all, I doubt the ruling covers news stories written, published and hosted by third parties.

  • by 93 Escort Wagon (326346) on Friday January 06, 2012 @08:15PM (#38616884)

    If you're on Facebook, post a new status message "Lyonnaise de Garantie escroc" - be sure it's flagged "Public" rather than "Friends only" or whatever. Tweet it too, if you're so inclined.

  • The search engine project pushed by the French government?

  • Just sent some spam via http://www.lyonnaise-de-garantie.com/contact.php [lyonnaise-...rantie.com]
    Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC Lyonnaise de Garanti ESCROC

  • in 3, 2, 1...

  • by nurb432 (527695) on Friday January 06, 2012 @09:07PM (#38617414) Homepage Journal

    They really need to get a life. If Google offends you then DON'T USE GOOGLE. No one is forcing you.

    Is this really what this world is turning into? A bunch of whiny pansies.

  • by guttentag (313541) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @02:01AM (#38619472) Journal
    Apparently this is a recurring problem for Google. On Sept 27, 2010, a French court convicted Google and Eric Schmidt of criminal defamation (discussion of it and why it wouldn't happen in the U.S. here [findlaw.com]) for Google's suggest function. The fact that over a year later they're facing this again means (a) they were expecting this to happen and have apparently decided it's part of the cost of doing business in France, and (b) the company suing them has many lawyers who were surely aware of this and saw a neat way to make some money and censor negative opinions.
  • by HuguesT (84078) on Saturday January 07, 2012 @04:49AM (#38620050)

    As far as I can make out, this case is making at least some headlines in France too, and the general sentiment is outrage at the company and at the court system, very similar to here. See these:

    link 1 [journaldugeek.com]

    link 2 [blogspot.com]

    link3 [pcinpact.com]

    However, more interestingly, the last link points to some other case where the judgment went the other way, i.e. Google suggesting a derogatory term in their search suggestions, and the French court finding them innocent. The text in French is here [pcinpact.com] (use google translate !) and shows much more common sense.

    Interestingly, I do not recall seeing this well-reasoned judgment on the front page of Slashdot, much in the way of traditional news outlets not reporting good news as often as bad ones.

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