Can a Google Search Suggestion Be Defamatory?

The Paris court of appeals has decided that a suggested search query generated by the Google Suggest function defamed the company whose name was first entered into the search box. This feature works by displaying the most popular searches performed by other Google searchers associated with the text typed into the search box. So Google doesn’t decide what is displayed; its machines just count and show.

Turns out that one of the most popular associations with the name of the plaintiff company was ‘escroc’, which in French means crook or swindler.

Is this a kind of ‘crowd-sourced’ defamation? What can Google or any search engine realistically do about it? Can the company program its suggestion feature to avoid any words in any language that may have a defamatory meaning? (I guess defamation by context or innuendo may be harder to demonstrate in this process.)

Would it be defamatory if a search for Company X turned up, as an ‘auto-suggest’, CompanyXSucks.com?

The damages were pretty stiff, it seems to me – 50,000 euros.

So: is there a problem here, in your view? Would Canadian law produce the same result? How would you advise your client, the search engine? What about your client Company X, in my hypothetical?

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