Begin to search for Rupert Murdoch in Google. Before you've even gotten to your second "u," Google's autocomplete has already guessed you're looking for the media tycoon. But that's not all -- other things are suggested through Google's autocomplete as well. One of these suggestions is "Jewish."
It's this designation associated with his name and that of others that has Google in some hot water. The Times of Israel reports that Google is being sued by the French organization SOS Racisme, which fights racism and discrimination, for suggesting the term "Jewish" with names like Murdoch and Mad Men actor Jon Hamm, even though neither are Jewish themselves:
Patrick Kulgman, a lawyer for SOS Racisme, told Agence France Presse that the feature amounts to “the creation of what is probably the biggest Jewish file in history.” That would be a non-issue in many countries, but France has outlawed the compilation of “ethnic files,” AFP reports.
SOS Racisme is joined in the lawsuit by France’s Union of Jewish Students and the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Among Peoples, among other organizations.
“Numerous users of the premier search engine in France and the world confront daily an unsolicited and almost systematic association between the term ‘Jewish’ and the last names of prominent figures in politics, media and business,” the suit says, creating a sense of Jewish “omnipotence in the French leadership.”
Hollywood Reporter notes the hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, where the plaintiff will argue against the "unsolicited and systematic associations between famous people and their Jewishness" as completed on Google.
The Jewish Press has more on what happens in one of the searches:
But if you plug the name of the actor who plays that elegant, utterly aloof, lady killer Mad Av executive in the search box, like we did, you’ll get a long list of websites (460,000 actually) that debate the possible connection between Hamm and the revelation on Mt. Sinai.
It’s all math, and for the most part it’s very useful math, enriching the Internet search process by suggesting directions the user hadn’t thought of. Also, if the same user has been looking for just that kind of information, the feature cuts down on search time, freeing up more valuable time for another rousing game of Solitaire.
According to Google's FAQ on its autocomplete function, it is run by an algorithm that "predicts and displays search queries based on other users' search activities and the contents of web pages indexed by Google." Because of this, there can occasionally be a search term that Google acknowledges may be "surprising to you." It emphasizes that autocomplete is based on a variety of factors and is not manual. At the same time it does acknowledge that it excludes "a narrow class of search queries related to pornography, violence, hate speech and copyright infringement.”
Hollywood Reporter says Google has been targeted in France before for its autocomplete when two companies complained they were being associated with the word "scam." In one case, the judge ruled in favor of the company, while in another the judge cited freedom of speech but did note Google could be held liable since the company alerted it to the problem.