Technology

Google search reveals names of rape victims

A man searching Google on a laptop Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Google removes predictions which are sexually explicit, hateful, violent or dangerous

Google's auto-complete and related search functions are revealing the identity of rape victims who have been granted anonymity.

The issue was discovered in a Times newspaper investigation of several prominent sexual assault cases.

Searches for attackers or alleged attackers automatically reveal the names of the women they have been accused of raping.

Google said it had removed all examples it had been "made aware of".

The firm told the BBC: "We don't allow these kind of auto-complete predictions or related searches that violate laws or our own policies.

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

Rape charity, The Survivors Trust, told the Times it was "beyond shocking" that Google's search engine threw up the names of victims.

Google recently expanded its removals policy to cover predictions in search which "disparage victims of violence and atrocities".

Google's auto-complete predictions and related searches are automatically generated based on popular or trending searches.

In the case of information about rape victims, it is likely that the suggestions appeared following searches on victims' names which may have been illegally exposed on social media.

The Times found that, in the case of an alleged rape, typing the defendant's name plus a common search term brought up the alleged victim's name.

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

It also found that searching for a victim's name brought up the abuser's name as a related search.

Google does have systems which automatically catch inappropriate suggestions in search but it processes billions of searches each day, meaning some will fall through the net.

The firm also co-operates with courts to help prevent sensitive predictions from appearing in search.

Victims in sexual offence cases have automatic lifelong anonymity, even if the accused is acquitted. Breaching this carries fines of up to £5,000.

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

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