Google 'Triad' Autocomplete Suit May Inspire E.U. Regulators

A Hong Kong court ruled a businessman can sue Google over its search suggestions. Could autocomplete be the next phase of the "right to be forgotten"?
Posted at 9:28 PM, Aug 06, 2014

It's still early days for Europe's "right to be forgotten," but while Google and other search engines try to figure out how they will comply with the European Court of Justice's ruling on its search results, another part of the search experience has become a target in Hong Kong: autocomplete.

A court ruled Wednesday that a Hong Kong businessman can sue Google because, when you start typing in his name, one of the suggested searches links him to the Triads, Asia's crime syndicates.

Albert Yeung is the chairman of Emperor Entertainment Group, a film company responsible for bringing movies like "The Hunger Games" to a Hong Kong audience. 

He's also a billionaire, coming in at number 45 of Forbes list of Hong Kong's 50 richest people. He's quoted in the South China Morning Post as saying he just doesn't feel comfortable without the equivalent of $6,000 dollars cash in his pocket.

That's an example of one of the many articles about Yeung that come up when you search his name. Guess what else you can find?

How about this 1997 New Republic article discussing Yeung's rumored link to the triads? That's bound to be bad for business. Google argued that Yeung should take his complaints to the website, not the search giant, but the judge disagreed.

Google's autocomplete runs on an automated algorithm, which means those suggestions are based on what other people are searching for — like someone more famous than me, for instance.

But the judge says those suggestions are a form of publication, and that by not censoring defamatory or inaccurate search terms, Google might be committing libel.

The upcoming lawsuit isn't directly related to the E.U.'s right to be forgotten, but it's hard to imagine autocomplete will stay out of European regulators sights for much longer. (Video via Euronews)

There have already been several lawsuits in Europe over those search term suggestions, though they came before the E.U. court's May ruling. 

Yeung is seeking damages for what he calls "grave injury" to his reputation.