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Germany Orders Google to Strip Some Words from Search Suggestions

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Google Inc.'s home page is displayed on a computer screen in Santa Clara, California, U.S. Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg
Google Inc.'s home page is displayed on a computer screen in Santa Clara, California, U.S. Photographer: Tony Avelar/Bloomberg

Google's autocomplete function can be a comedy goldmine. Google reveals so many ridiculous searches that they are now affectionately recorded by Internet meme-sters.

There are some countries, though, that aren't in on the joke. As my colleague Karin Matussek reports from Berlin, a German court has ordered Google to block certain words that appear in autocomplete for users in the country if anyone complains that they're libelous.

The technology has become a point of dispute in Germany in large part because of a lawsuit by the wife of former president Christian Wulff, who accused Google of illegally autocompleting searches for her name with references to a red-light district and escort services, a case that is pending in a Hamburg court. A separate case, which involved an online seller of dietary supplements whose name came back in search results linked with Scientology and fraud, led to the latest ruling from Germany's highest civil court.

Google was also ordered last year by a court in Japan to block certain words in autocomplete because they violated users' privacy.

Google calls it "incomprehensible" that it could be held liable for words entered by users. The German case has been sent back to a lower court to investigate additional facts. The judge may want to stay away from Google itself, though, in looking up more information: A search for "Google" and "autocomplete" brings up "funny" and "fail" among the top suggestions.

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