Google, the 8th Commandment and Original Sin…

Tyler Cowen asks the question if Google Autocomplete can be libelous? Not a bad question, but it doesn’t really get to the heart of the matter.

From Germany:

…for Bettina Wulff it’s a nightmare. The wife of former German President Christian Wulff wants the search engine to cease suggesting terms that she finds defamatory. This has nothing to do with the search results, but rather with the recommendations made by Google’s “Autocomplete” function, a service that is also offered by competitors like Bing and Yahoo. All one has to do is type her first name and the first letter of her last name to get search suggestions such as “Bettina Wulff prostitute,” “Bettina Wulff escort” and “Bettina Wulff red-light district.”

Don’t forget the problem of cascades here:

The Autocomplete function, the usefulness of which Google so guilelessly praises as a means of giving one’s fingers a rest, undeniably helps spread rumors. Assuming that someone unsuspectingly begins to look for information on “Bettina Wulff” and is offered “prostitute,” “Hanover” and “dress” as additional search terms — where, independent of their actual interests, will users most likely click?

The real question is in that last line. If Google autocompletes your search and one of the terms is prostitute or {fill in the blank with unflattering and embarrassing term}, which one would you choose? The 8th commandment says “do not bear false witness against your neighbor”. When he asks what does this mean, Luther adds the positive burden to “put the best construction on everything”. Google might be the greatest facilitator of trespass the world has ever seen. And yet it is darn funny and irresistible.

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