Is it wrongful of Google to ignore search terms in queries and show irrelevant hits?

Published on 3 April 2015 categories ,

It’s a thoughtful, usually appropriate service on Google’s part. When you enter SOLVE advocaten, all hits refer to SOLV advocaten. It also recognises typos: erroneously enter Arnp Lodder and it shows you search results referring to Arno Lodder. However, Google’s waywardness isn’t always justifiable. Take a look at this example, which I discussed in my inaugural lecture:



“Internet search engines used to have respect. They would gingerly suggest alternatives, along the lines of ‘Did you mean’. These days they offer your own query as an alternative, which was what happened to me when trying to retrieve an article I’d written for Het Financieele Dagblad (abbreviated to FD) and Google thought I was looking for Flodder. Annoying, but not of direct legal relevance, although potentially bordering on non-performance.”


It’s a prime example of the dictatorship of technology and focus on the masses at large. There is no room for exceptions, at least not at first sight. The more mainstream you are, the less likely you are to be bothered by countless assumptions based on big data. Exceptional characters are far more susceptible to being approached wrongly, unjustly or incorrectly.


Earlier this week, someone left a confidential message on my voicemail. Needless to say, I would never disclose any part of it, but my initial legal reflex was “I did not agree to keep anything confidential”. But instantly, the social propriety of obligations arising from the law imposed itself on me: disclosure would almost certainly qualify as a wrongful act.


Of course I’ll refrain from divulging the details of the case, but I will discuss the underlying problem. The issue involved one of Google’s suggestions similar to the one in the Flodder example above. Suppose I have created a funny cartoon character for animation purposes that I’ve called Jammy Doopie. It’s a big hit. Just about everybody is crazy about Jammy Doopie, not only my students but also their parents, grandparents, cousins, little brothers and sisters. However, searching for Jammy Doopie in Google does not yield information about my fabulous avatar Jammy but instead gives you the results of the query Jommy Poopie, all links to hardcore porn sites. Naturally, Google will also suggest “Search instead for Jammy Doopie”, but by then the damage has already been done. I would rather have Google set aside its waywardness here and promptly present my fans with a list of relevant hits relating to my avatar.


Does this constitute non-performance or socially improper conduct on Google’s part?


I assume that if we were to ask them, they’d solve the problem (Google is like that, I believe). But what if they didn’t, what would a court decide?

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