Doctor Alleges Google's Autocomplete Defames Him
An Australian doctor has sued Google for allegedly defaming him with its autocomplete feature.
Cancer surgeon Guy Hingston of Port Macquarie, New South Wales, says in his legal papers that Google automatically suggests the phrase "Guy Hingston bankrupt" when users start typing his name into the query box. He says the suggested search term appears after people enter "Guy Hin..."
"Dr. Hingston is not bankrupt," the complaint alleges in a lawsuit filed last week in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California. "Dr. Hingston has lost a number of patients and financiers who are refusing to associate and/or deal with Dr. Hingston as a consequence of the reference on Google to a bankruptcy."
But he also said in a Dec. 14 letter to Google -- which was attached to his complaint -- that the results associated with the phrase "Guy Hingston bankruptcy" take users to articles about Eclipse Aviation. That company filed for bankruptcy in federal court in Delaware. Court records for that case list Guy Hingston of Port Macquarie, New South Wales -- and a company he owned, CoastJet Aircraft -- as among the creditors.
Given that Hingston appears to have been involved in a bankruptcy, he likely faces an uphill battle in the case.
This lawsuit isn't the first time that Google has faced a complaint for its autocomplete feature.
In September, Bettina Wulff -- the wife of former German president Christian Wulff -- reportedly sued Google for allegedly showing the phrases "Bettina Wulff prostitute" and "Bettina Wulff escort" when people began typing her name into the query box.
Last year, Google lost a lawsuit in Italy that involved allegedly defamatory autocomplete suggestions.
But no U.S. courts appear to have ruled that the autocomplete feature can in itself be defamatory.