Since 2009 the internet search engine 'Google' has been
using an autocomplete functioning to support its users. This means
that during the manual input of a search criterion this functioning
automatically displays different search suggestions
('predictions') and completive recommendations in the form
of combinations of words. The automatically shown combinations and
suggested additions are based on an algorithm, which especially
uses common user behavior, frequent Google search queries and the
content of different websites for creating a combination. Therefore
especially in connection with the search for a person it could
happen that combinations are created which are disreputable,
insulting or libelous for this person (eg in case of the wife of
the former president of the republic of Germany the
'Google' autocomplete functioning often suggested
'escort services' or 'prostitution' as addition to
Due to this autocomplete functioning a few people in Germany
filed lawsuits against Google in 2012 for omission and compensation
because of violation of their personality rights and violation of
their business reputation. In this particular case (BGH 14.5.2013,
VI ZR 269/12) the name of the claimant was connected with the words
'scientology' and 'beguilement'. In May 2013 the
German High Court judged that the autocompletion of the
claimant's name with the words 'scientology' and
'beguilement' is a violation of his personality rights.
However the BGH also said that for an operator of an internet
search engine it would be unreasonable to preliminarily check all
possible autocompleting combinations for any infringement of
rights. Therefore a legal liability for the operating company does
not arise until it gets notice about the violation of personality
rights (eg gets informed by the person whose personality rights are
violated). Only if the company does not react on a request for
omission because of a violation of personality rights by a person
concerned, the person can effectively file a lawsuit for omission.
Although the BGH did judge about the right of omission, he left the
question if an operator of an internet search engine is also liable
to pay damages for such a violation of personality rights
The legal situation in Austria is quite similar: In Austria the
operator of an internet search engine is obliged to remove the
personality rights violating autocompletion on request. If the
company does not react, the person concerned can file a lawsuit for
omission. However because of a so called liability privilege for
operators of internet search engines stated in the Austrian
e-commerce-law a liability for the operating companies to pay
damages or compensation for such a violation most likely is
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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