Unwanted content might not only appear on search result pages – it could also be suggested by Google's Autofill while typing out the search.
A complaint about online privacy and Google’s web browser was recently made to the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (HFHR). When the complainant searched his own name, he said, Google’s Autofill and search results returned suggestions that contained sensitive personal information about him.
Jan Novak* is a public official who is well known locally because of his job. Several years ago, a popular newspaper published an online article about a certain case connected to his job. Under the article, a reader left a comment that revealed deeply personal information about Novak’s private life.
The comment was in no way related to the content of the article, and in no way did it concern Novak’s professional life and public service. A link to that comment soon became one of the most popular results from a search of Jan Novak’s name. Furthermore, while using Autofill or the “similar results” feature, Google suggestions included personal information contained in the comment.
After Jan Novak’s attorney, who is from the HFHR and took the case pro bono, contacted the newspaper, it agreed to remove the comment from its website, and the link no longer appears in search results on that site.
Yet despite deleting the information from the source website, the Google browser was still finding and displaying the comment from this source during searches of Jan Novak’s name.
Any further legal action was avoided after Novak's attorney contacted Google’s office in Poland and the company quickly complied with Novak's request to delete all relevant content generated by the browser’s algorithm.
Google in the spotlight again
This is not the first time controversy has arisen because of search results violating the right to privacy. In a well-known case regarding web browser Google, the EU Court of Justice ruled that protecting people’s privacy and personal data might in certain circumstances justify an order to delete some websites from search results. This judgment confirmed the so-called "right to be forgotten."
The case that was handled by the HFHR shows other content generated by browsers’ algorithms, such as Autofill, might also violate the right to privacy.
* - The name has been changed for this story.