Published: Thu, May 24, 2018
People | By Leon Thompson

Google comes under fire for revealing rape victims in searches

Google comes under fire for revealing rape victims in searches

In a response to The Times, Google said it had deleted the four instances discovered by the newspaper.

The search-suggestion feature, and a similar feature that offers "related searches" at the bottom of the results page, could be helping to compromise the right to anonymity of complainants in United Kingdom rape and sexual assault cases.

The attorney-general has told Google that it has a legal responsibility to make sure it does not help to identify rape victims.

A Google spokeswoman told The Times: 'We don't allow these kinds of autocomplete predictions or related searches that violate laws or our own policies and we have removed the examples we've been made aware of in this case.

"We encourage people to send us feedback about any sensitive or bad predictions".

Fay Maxted of the Survivors Trust, a rape charity, said it was "beyond shocking that Google is facilitating access to the names of victims".

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Google's auto-complete predictions and related searches are automatically generated based on popular or trending searches. A user who is less familiar with the case and who then looks it up, using terms such as the defendant's name, can then stumble across identifying information without really trying.

In another case, the same search also produced a name and home town.

In one alleged rape case, typing the defendant's name plus a "common search term" brought up the alleged victim's name under autocomplete, the Times said.

Lifelong anonymity is granted to complainants and victims of sexual offences, even if the accused is acquitted.

In the United Kingdom, victims of sexual assault have life-long anonymity and anyone who breaches this can face a fine of up to £5000 (NZ$9700).

According to the Times, at least nine people have been convicted for posting names of victims on social media.

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