Google in court over automatic search identifying Jewish celebrities
Google has been ordered to go to mediation over complaints in France that its search engine automatically associates the word “Jew” with the names of certain well-known people. Anti-racist groups have complained that the automatic function breaks a French ban on databases based on racial grouping.
Judge Martine Provost-Lopin on Wednesday accepted a request from parties involved in the case to appoint a mediator and set a new hearing for 27 June.
The French Jewish students’ union (UEJF) and three anti-racist campaigns have taken the web giant to court over its Google Autocomplete function, which provides possible combinations of words for searches, often based on what previous searchers have typed.
They complain that many Google users are “confronted on a daily basis with the unsolicited association of the term ‘jew’ with the surnames of people with high profiles in the worlds of politics, the media or business”.
The French state is not allowed to produce statistics based on racial groupings, on the principle that all citizens are equal before the law, and the compilation of files of people according to ethnic origins is illegal.
“We will talk about philosophy rather than law [during mediation] and of technical solutions rather than who is right and who is wrong,” said Patrick Klugman, the lawyer for SOS-racisme, on of the parties bringing the case.
“Two approaches to freedom and two approaches to responsibility” are involved, he said, rather than a confrontation with an “ideological enemy”.
For its part, Google France on Tuesday pointed out that Google Autocomplete creates its responses “totally automatically, according to criteria which are purely algorithmic, notably corresponding to the popularity of searches by web users”.
The mediator is to be former judge Jean-Pierre Mattei, according to Klugman.
Last year Apple scrapped an app that answered the question "Jew or not Jew?" after legal action by anti-racists and Jewish groups.