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German court overturns Google autocomplete defamation dismissal

updated 09:13 pm EDT, Tue May 14, 2013

Case previously dismissed, appeal sends ruling back for review

The German Federal Court of Justice has demanded that Google must censor autocomplete suggestions if they are defamatory or insulting. An unidentified company selling nutritional supplements brought the suit, claiming that when the company name was entered on Google Germany's website, it alleged fraud, and directed searchers to controversial Scientology sites.

The suit alleged defamation, as the autofill responses suggested "a factual link between the plaintiff and the terms 'Scientology' and/or 'fraud,' which have negative connotations," according to the court's order. The verdict overturns a Cologne regional court ruling which had dismissed the complaint in 2012. The regional court has now been handed the case and will have to reevaluate the previous dismissal.

Google noted that the order didn't demand that Google shut down the autocomplete function, or to pre approve all results. Google must check for reported defamatory results, and removed as soon as brought to the attention of the search engine.

The appeal has implications for the case of German's former first lady, Bettina Wulff. Wulff is suing Google for similar reasons, as the autocomplete function returns the terms "escort" and "red light past" when her name is entered.

by MacNN Staff



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