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Google Faces Lawsuit Over 'Jewish' Search Suggestions

Anti-discrimination firms suing Google for "unsolicited and systematic associations between famous people and their Jewishness."
By Rachel Hirshfeld
First Publish: 5/1/2012, 11:17 AM

sketch of Google trial
sketch of Google trial
Reuters

French anti-discrimination organizations are suing Google for allegedly disseminating "unsolicited and systematic associations between famous people and their Jewishness" through Google's auto-complete function, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Since 2008, Google has been attempting to anticipate what its users will type into the search engine with its "Suggest" feature, but lawyers for SOS Racisme say that by connecting famous personalities with an often persecuted religious minority, the web giant is overseeing “the creation of what is probably the biggest Jewish file in history.”

When users type Rupert Murdoch's name into the Google search engine, the suggested results include "rupert murdoch jewish."

"Numerous users of the first search engine of France and the world are confronted daily with the association, unsolicited and almost systematically, [of] the word 'Jew' with the names of those most prominent in the world of politics, media or business," SOS Racisme and other organizations state in their lawsuit, according to a translation of an article about the case published by the French-language La Côte newspaper.

The anti-discrimination firms assert that by merely suggesting the word "Jew" in the auto-complete feature, Google is allegedly violating a French constitutional law against compiling files on people that refer to their ethnicity.

In its FAQ for auto-complete, Google explains that the suggestions "are a reflection of the search activity of all Web users and the contents of Web pages indexed by Google."

Those results "may include silly or strange or surprising terms and phrases," the company said.

"While we always strive to algorithmically reflect the diversity of content on the Web (some good, some objectionable), we also apply a narrow set of removal policies for pornography, violence, hate speech, and terms that are frequently used to find content that infringes copyrights," Google added.

This is not the first time Google has been charged due to its auto-complete feature. In 2009, Google was hit with two verdicts in cases that questioned whether companies were defamed when it was "suggested" that they were associated with the French word for "scam."