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Hotel owners to sue Google for auto-complete ‘defamation’

The owners of a Co Louth hotel say Google allowed the word ‘receivership’ to appear after their name – which defamed the business.

Updated, 14.41

THE OWNERS of a hotel in Co Louth have begun a legal action against Google over the auto-complete function on its search engine – which they say has allowed their business and reputations to be defamed.

Oliver Quinn Sr, Oliver Quinn Jr and Niall Quinn, and Ballymascanlon Holdings Ltd – all representing the Ballymascanlon House Hotel in Co Louth – say users typing the business’s name into Google from March 14 onward would be shown the word “receivership” as a suggested search term.

RTÉ News reports how the court was told the term could imply that the hotel was in receivership, or some other kind of financial difficulty, but that this was not the case.

The action was initially filed in June of this year against Google Ireland Ltd, the search company’s Irish operation which acts as its headquarters for Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The Californian-based Google Inc. was later added as a co-defendant, because it is directly responsible for the search algorithms operating on the website.

The Irish Times’ Mary Carolan reported that the defence have applied to have the case discontinued against Google Ireland, because it does not itself manage the web search service.

Justice Peter Kelly described the case as “an unusual commercial defamation claim” and adjourned an application by the defendants to have the case transferred to the Commercial Court, where it would be dealt with more quickly.

Kelly said his adjournment on the application, which will be revisited in two weeks, was not to be taken as precedent.

A thread started by members of staff at the hotel on Google’s webmaster forums earlier this year appeared to attribute the appearance of the word ‘receivership’ to an artificial website which no longer appears in Google’s search index.

A spokesperson for Google Ireland this afternoon said the terms suggested by the auto-complete feature “are produced by a number of objective factors including popularity of search terms.

“Google does not manually select these terms – all of the millions of queries shown in Autocomplete have been typed previously by other Google users.”

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