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Google The Courts

In Germany, Offensive Autocomplete Is No Laughing Matter 200

Posted by Soulskill
from the why-are-IT-people dept.
itwbennett writes "We've all had a chuckle over Google's autocomplete results for various search queries. But one German businessman had a less funny experience when he searched for his name on Google.de: The autocomplete suggested search terms where his name was tied with 'Scientology' and 'fraud' (in German, of course). This was back in 2010. In 2012, a German court ruled that the autocomplete terms did not infringe the plaintiff's privacy. Now, a year later, the Federal Court of Justice in Karlsruhe has overturned that ruling and ordered that Google remove offensive search suggestions when notified."
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In Germany, Offensive Autocomplete Is No Laughing Matter

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  • Re:Good to know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SimonTheSoundMan (1012395) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @05:14PM (#43724935) Homepage

    Guess they'll ask to remove Hitler and nazi suggestions.

    Godwin's Law hit already. Geeze!

  • by cgimusic (2788705) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @05:28PM (#43725163)
    Google are not writing that though. What they would effectively be writing is "'Herr Rolf is a fraud' is one of the most commonly searched terms in our search engine" which would be pretty easy to prove and hence it is not defamatory.
  • by Aristos Mazer (181252) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @05:29PM (#43725177)

    I think that's why the court required the "when notified" part. I don't agree, but at least it is feasible to implement.

  • by Koreantoast (527520) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @05:32PM (#43725229)
    I'm curious how German law determines what is an "offensive" search. If there's a legal definition, then maybe you can work something, but if "offensive" is determined by the "offended", then Google might as well disable the entire feature as anyone who doesn't like the autocomplete result for their name or term begin banning just about every potentially offensive combination out there.
  • Personality rights (Score:4, Insightful)

    by saibot834 (1061528) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @05:33PM (#43725265) Homepage

    Freedom of speech is not dead in Germany. The constitution just put a different (higher) weight on personality rights.

    In this case, googleing the name "Bettina Wulff" of the first lady would autocomplete to things like "escort" and "prostitute", because some people wrongfully tried to make a past life as a prostitute stick to her public image (which has been shown is just nonsense).

    Now, I would agree that it is perfectly reasonable to put a higher weight on the right of free speech. But personality rights, and the right to be protected from libel are also important. Those are two legally protected values that have to be carefully balanced.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by geekoid (135745) <dadinportland AT yahoo DOT com> on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @05:46PM (#43725451) Homepage Journal

    freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say whatever you like, nor does it mean you get an audience.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by rudy_wayne (414635) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @05:53PM (#43725555)

    That Freedom of speech in Germany is dead. Mental note...

    Slander is excepted from free speech in a lot of places. Say your name is "Bob Somelastname" and when you type "Bob Somelastname" into google it autosuggests 'pedophile', are you saying you should have no recourse and that should stay up forever?

    If a lot of people are entering the search query "Bob Somelastname pedophile" then Google autocomplete will add the word "pedophile" whenever someone types "Bob Somelastname". Google is not trying to be offensive, its just an algorithm that is based on the most common searches. This is simply how it is supposed to work.

    People really need to shut the fuck up and stop being "offended" by every little thing.

  • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @06:07PM (#43725767) Homepage Journal

    Since what constitutes "offensive" material varies wildly from person to person and also depending on the reason/motives people have to do any particular search

    If I start searching for "muslim teachings" Google will offer me "muslim terrorist" as soon as I type the first "t".

    How long will that hold up if google is held liable for what it's autocomplete algorithm does.

    German courts have their heads up their asses on this one. Autocomplete is nothing more than a basic statistical lookup. Germany is basically making the use of statistics a thought crime.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @06:10PM (#43725801)

    freedom of speech doesn't mean you can say whatever you like

    Actually it does, at least in terms of ideas. That's why where freedom of speech is limited in the states, it's not broad but very specific. The idea of fires in theaters, whether in fantasy or theories or reporting on actual fires is not forbidden in the US, just yelling it in cases which can cause a deadly stampede.

    Germany otoh, has a free speech clause in it's constitution but has a whole host of illegal ideas, which is the exact opposite of free speech.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by he-sk (103163) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @06:28PM (#43725993)

    If you're referring to Mein Kampf, you're mistaken. Publishing excerpts of it is prosecuted in civil courts, but only because the Bavarian state claims the copyright. When Hitler killed himself, his estate went to the state, including the publishing rights of that book. The copyright is about to expire after which everybody will be free to print copies in Germany.

    On the other hand, distribution and use of some symbols commonly associated with Nazi ideology is a prohibited by the law. If and how much freedom of speech is restricted by these laws is a matter of debate. Certainly, the US is more permissive in this regard, but one should not forget that these laws grew out of denazification regulations instituted by the Allied occupation forces after World War 2.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @07:09PM (#43726469)

    Actually, Germany has not exactly a "freedom of speach" clause in the constitution. Freedom of speach is not even something actually translateable to German (perhaps Redefreiheit?). After all "freedom of speach" taken literally is quite a strange concept, much like "freedom to move".

    What Germany has are freedom of opinion, freedom of art, freedom of press and some other things.
    If you translate "freedom of speach" to German and then back what you get is "freedom of opinion", which is the freedom to have an opinion and to state your opinion. Which is a much more precise term, because it has not the problem of all those "yelling fire" problems. If you talk about general "speach" you have to determine which speach is protected and which not, because it is obvious that not everything can be protected (heck, even in the US you get a full list of criminal offenses you almost can commit only by speaking or writing). While with opinion it is much easier: If it is an expression of your opinion, it is protected (and absolutely protected, not overrideable by any practical considerations like your "freedom of speach" often is.). If it is about claiming facts (Tatsachenbehauptungen) it is not (ast least not by freedom of opinion).

  • Re:Good to know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by arth1 (260657) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @07:14PM (#43726509) Homepage Journal

    Didn't you know, "freedom" is whatever USA has at any given moment? As the liberties change, the definition of freedom changes with it. This is how we can say "land of the free" without choking on the words.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @07:28PM (#43726665)

    The general complaint is still true: in Germany (and most other EU countries), the freedom of speech is generally limited to what the majority finds acceptable.

    That is not true at all. One can claim the same about the US and just be as correct as that.

    In the U.S. the opposite is true. For example, the idiots of the Westboro Baptist Church can say and protest as much as they want, even though 99.999% of the U.S. population absolutely hates them (that includes me). Whould they have lived in Germany, they would have been in jail a long time ago.

    Can you name me a law that would have put them in jail? I might be missing what they do, but if they only put those pesky "God hates fags" signs, then I see nothing applicable.

    But I will defend their freedom to express themselves

    Please, stop that pathetic slogan. You are not defending their freedom. You are defending your misunderstanding of the world.

    , in that regard (note the 'in that regard', I'm sure other things are better in .de).

    Like in Germany you have a codified freedom of opinion. An matter of opinion can not be an insult and cannot otherwise be against any law (as freedom of opinion tops any other law). From what wikipedia claims with all your "freedom of speach" you do not even have that in the US.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:4, Insightful)

    by quantaman (517394) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @07:35PM (#43726717)

    Are you really telling me you wouldn't get a bit offended if Google autocompleted pedophile onto your name?

    I am offended by lots of things I read and hear everyday. That does not justify censorship. There is no "right to not be offended."

    I was originally talking slander, the person who replied to me said they wouldn't be offended (which I found unlikely), but the original complaint was and still is about slander.

    If someone googles your name and they see 'pedophile' come up, they're going to get a strong negative impression of you (especially if it's a somewhat unique name). If your livelihood or reputation is strongly tied to what people see when they look for you online that can have pretty drastic consequences and I'd say that's potentially slanderous.

    The fix, telling Google, 'pedophile' and 'fraud' are both really ugly terms and I don't want them suggested with my name since I'm neither, sets a potentially pad precedent but it's particularly damaging to Google.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sabri (584428) * on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @07:42PM (#43726773)

    Can you name me a law that would have put them in jail? I might be missing what they do, but if they only put those pesky "God hates fags" signs, then I see nothing applicable.

    here you go.

    Please, stop that pathetic slogan. You are not defending their freedom. You are defending your misunderstanding of the world.

    On the contrary. As soon as those idiots from the WBC are being silenced, someone else will be next. This is the same mechanism that is used for other methods of government surveillance. It starts out as anti-terrorism or anti-child pornography, but will soon be used for petty crimes and regular unwarranted searches.

    Like in Germany you have a codified freedom of opinion. An matter of opinion can not be an insult and cannot otherwise be against any law (as freedom of opinion tops any other law). From what wikipedia claims with all your "freedom of speach" you do not even have that in the US.

    German law differs a lot from U.S. law. German law is eventually governed by the European Convention on Human Rights. This, in turn, provides an exception for "protection of morals". Which is exactly the clause that undermines the entire protection, as "morals" are locally defined. The U.S. constitution does not have that exception, which is why it is my belief that freedom of speech is better protected in the U.S.

  • Re:Good to know (Score:5, Insightful)

    by harperska (1376103) on Tuesday May 14, 2013 @08:08PM (#43726961)

    You are correct in that the nature of free speech limitations can be different in the US vs. Germany. However, the limitations to free speech in the US are actually more broad rather than more specific. In the US, limitations are only based on broad categories such as libel, rather than making specific ideas illegal. For example, I can not legally publicly say that you enjoy frequent coitus with your mother. If false, it is libel/slander, and if true, a violation of your right to privacy (assuming you consider dissemination of such information damaging). But publicly proclaiming you to be a motherfscker is illegal not because statements regarding maternal copulation are explicitly outlawed, but because they fall under a restricted category.

    OTOH, the topic of TFA is regarding a category, not a specific idea, specifically speech that violates ones right to privacy. As such, it is conceivable that a US court could make the same ruling that the German court did in this case.

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