French Court First of Many to Convict Google of “Suggest” Defamation?
May I suggest that Google CEO Eric Schmidt cancel any plans to ski the French alps this year–the authorities may not let him in!
Not after he (and Google proper) were convicted of defamation for results showing up in Google Suggest:
The new function, which suggests options as you type in a word, brought up the words “rapist” and “satanist” when the plaintiff’s name was typed into the search engine, legalis.net reported.
The court ordered Google to make a symbolic payment of one euro in damages and take measures to ensure they could be no repeat of the offence.
Whether the plaintiff deserves the reputation cast down by Google Suggest, we won’t discuss here, however this could be the kind of precedent needed for someone to test this in a US court.
During last week’s SEOChat on Twitter, the topic of reputation management for Google Suggest was a hot one. For anyone that is lost, here’s how Google Suggest looks:
How Google Suggest Works
How does Google come up with the suggestions? Well, its defense in the aforementioned case gives a very broad explanation:
The statement said that the Google Suggest function simply reflected the most common terms used in the past with words entered, so it was not Google itself that was making the suggestions.
In practice, it’s not quite that simple. After some testing, it appears that Google Suggest takes into account the following:
- What was the first keyword search? For example, someone searches for my company, Trackur.
- They then decide to refine those results by changing their search to “Trackur Free”–which was what they were looking for all along.
- If enough people make that refinement, compared to simply searching Trackur, then it starts showing up in Google Suggest.
What’s not known is the time frequency of the above. Does this have to take place over days, weeks, months? Perhaps only hours? Also, not concrete is how much the actual results play a role. If Google has a lot of matching results for “Trackur Free” does that increase its chances of becoming a suggested search phrase?
The Dreaded Google Suggest “Scam”
What frustrates a lot of people is that new companies–or those without much of a reputation–tend to end up with the dreaded “Scam” suggestion. This isn’t necessarily due to the company being a scam, but because the searcher is unable to find proof that the company is legitimate, they end up doing their due diligence. They add “scam” to the company’s name, just to make sure. That then creates a self-fulfilling Google prophecy, with Google Suggest showing “scam” and creating a reputation nightmare that doesn’t actually exist.
All of this simply highlights the importance of being proactive in your reputation management. If you don’t give Google searchers enough evidence that you are NOT a scam, they’ll go and check. That’s when you create your Google Suggest nightmare.
Of course, some legitimate companies are beyond that stage. They’ve already been hit by the Google Suggest “scam” label. It’s those companies that I suspect we’ll see test the US courts to see if they’ll agree with their French counterparts.