Israel has joined the ranks of several other countries including Japan, Italy, Germany and France in passing a verdict against Google for its Autocomplete results (here is a link to the news item in Hebrew).
To sum up the article, an “online entrepreneur” named Tzahi Rozental sued Google for showing Autocomplete results that included the equivalent of “fraud,” “con man” and “scam” in Hebrew after his name. Google and Rozental reached a compromise where Google will pay Rozental reparations of 30,000NIS (about $8,000) and will not return libelous Autocomplete results for his name. To be fair to Google, Tzahi Rozental has a business making money off of the Internet. It isn’t too farfetched that people might be conducting those actual searches.
So this is another win for the average citizen against a huge corporation. Well, kind of.
There is a symbiosis between the search engines and their users. It is obvious that search engines learn from our behavior. Companies like Google constantly tweak the algorithms based on how we search for information to provide us with better, more accurate search results.
But it also works the other way round.
Search engines are teaching us how to conduct searches. How else to explain the number of people whose Autocomplete suggestions have the word “fraud,” “bankrupt,” “divorce” or “arrest” next to them?
Google claims that its Autocomplete suggestions are based on real searches conducted by real people. Quite often, however, when you click on the provocative suggestion, there are no results. Why, then, offer a suggestion knowing the search will lead nowhere?
It could be that Google has collected the most popular searches included with names and then just regurgitates them back when you type in a specific name.
More likely, however, it is that we have learned that to find the really interesting stuff on a person we need to enter these specific words. We try.
Hmmm, let’s see if my CPA is a fraud. Nope, nothing came up.
OK, let’s see if my family practitioner has ever been arrested. Nope, well that’s good to know.
These little background checks have the potential to ruin a person’s career.
Changing Google Autocomplete
The answer to changing Google Autocomplete lies in how the libelous suggestions got there in the first place: you need to have people searching for something else. (This article suggests first checking that you haven’t inadvertently created the results yourself.)
How many people?
It depends on how popular your name is. If you have an uncommon name, then a couple of different people searching for the same simple search daily over the course of a couple of months will probably do the trick. For example, your name + the city you are from or your name + Facebook. It will probably be necessary to maintain the positive search suggestions by continuing to search for the desired Autocomplete suggestions on a regular basis.
If you are someone even mildly famous, like Rozental who advertises online and has many search results for his name, asking your buddies to search for you twice a week isn’t going to make a dent in the Autocomplete results.
In such a case, changing Google Autocomplete results will probably require professional assistance. You could sue Google like Rozental but your chances of winning aren’t great and might cause something similar to the Streisand effect. Online reputation management has several strategies for changing Google Autocomplete results to make them more truthful (and less slanderous).