On Tuesday, August 5th, a Hong Kong court ruled that Albert Yeung Sau-shing, the founder and chairman of Hong Kong-based conglomerate Emperor Group, could sue Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) for defamation.
The suit was filed because searches for the Chinese billionaire’s name on Google suggest adding the word ‘triad’, suggesting a connection to Hong Kong’s notorious organized crime groups. When searching in either English and Chinese for Albert Yeung Sau-shing on Google, the system automatically suggests phrases related to organized crime as a part of the ‘autocomplete’ function.
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) has not commented on the Hong Kong court ruling as of yet.
Details on the decision
In the ruling, the High Court of Hong Kong dismissed Google’s argument that it was not responsible for the autocomplete suggestions related to Yeung and furthermore, that the court did not have personal jurisdiction over the U.S. search giant.
“There is a good arguable case that Google Inc is the publisher of the Words and liable for their publication,” said Marlene Ng, the deputy high court judge, explained in her Tuesday ruling.
Moreover, given Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) did not protest that the autocomplete suggestions were defamatory or were criminal associations, the firm may end up getting hit with a large judgement if Yeung sues successfully.
“In my view, it cannot be said at this stage that damages for reputational damage in Hong Kong are likely to be minimal if Yeung wins at trial,” Ng said.
Google argued it was not responsible for autosuggestions
In the case, Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL) (NASDAQ:GOOG) argued that the autocomplete function works according to an automatic algorithm and the firm does not control and is not responsible for the resulting suggestions. Google’s attorneys also pointed out that the autocomplete suggestions change depending on what a “critical mass” of users are searching for.
“The entire basis of the internet will be compromised if search engines are required to audit what can be assessed by users using their search tools,” read court documents attributed Gerard McCoy, Google’s attorney
“It would be impossible for Google Inc to manually interfere with or monitor the search processes given the billions of searches conducted by Google Search,” McCoy also said in the documents.