Defending Against an Autocomplete Smear Campaign

What would you do if you started to Google your name and Google was to suggest you complete the query with the word scammer, fraud or crook?

While Google contends with lawsuits around the globe relating to autocomplete suggestions which are deemed libelous, one has to wonder if it isn’t possible to easily set up a campaign to smear anyone or any company. Google argues that features like autocomplete can’t be libelous because they utilize an algorithm which uses information from Google+ and user searches.

The obvious question which hasn’t been addressed however is if one can get away with fraud in the advertising business, why not in the autocomplete business? In fact if you have networks at your disposal which are responsible for manually clicking on search results and ads, you can bring these same assets to bear when pulling off autocomplete fraud.

Moreover, automated botnets could be used to assist in such an endeavor.

The point here is whether the “algorithm defense” should be allowed if the data is at best imperfect.

This question will have to be sorted out by courts and if you are interested in learning more, check out this article about how the legal system in Germany, Italy and Hong Kong have addressed the Google autocomplete libel issue already.

I reached out to to get their take on this issue but couldn’t immediately get a response from their PR department. It is vacations season after all. I then decided to reach out to Carrie Majewski (pictured) who heads up TMC’s ContentBoost division to get her take. She has this to say, “When it comes to protecting your brand against an auto-complete smear campaign, your best line of defense is to have a fully-baked content marketing strategy. Compelling custom copy is your first weapon against negative brand chatter. If you inundate cyber space with insightful, thought leadership-worthy content pieces (i.e. blogs, videos, white papers), you increase your likelihood of positive phrases being associated with your brand in the auto-complete query.”

What Carrie suggests makes a lot of sense but puts the onus on each of us – company, person, etc. to ensure we are pushing out lots of positive information about ourselves to minimize the chances that someone can target you through autocomplete fraud. Likewise for negative Yelp and other reviews of your establishment. Just as importantly, there is bound to be negative and positive information relating to everyone and every company. Very few people haven’t done something at some point which they don’t want shared publicly. Once again, pushing out the good is the best defense for now. Perhaps one day, it will become easier for people around the globe to delete data from Google’s autocomplete database.

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