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Explaining the Causes and Risks of Ignoring 'Japanese Search Suggestion Pollution


Explaining the Causes and Risks of Ignoring 'Japanese Search Suggestion Pollution

When you type keywords into the search boxes of Google or Yahoo! JAPAN, related phrases are predicted and displayed. These are referred to as ‘suggest keywords’.

However, sometimes, unfounded negative words may appear, such as:

  • 〇〇 Black company
  • △△△ Suspicious
  • ■■■ Scam

If you find such negative words displayed when searching for your own company or business, we will explain in detail what you should do.

What is Suggest Pollution?

What is Suggest Pollution?

While the suggest function itself is a convenient feature for users, there is also a risk that if negative words continue to appear, it could lead to a decline in the company’s image.

As in the example, the act of intentionally causing a large number of malicious related keywords to be displayed in the search engine’s suggest field, or the result of such an act, is referred to as suggest pollution.

Mechanism of Suggest Function and Causes of Contamination

Mechanism of Suggest Function

To understand why suggest contamination occurs, it is necessary to understand how the suggest functions of Google and Yahoo! JAPAN are displayed according to their respective algorithms.

① Mechanism of Google Suggest

Google’s suggest function is believed to be displayed based on the following two data:

  • Whether a lot of searches are being conducted with the target keyword
  • Whether there are many sites that include the target keyword

The conditions for Google Suggest to be displayed are that many people are conducting searches and that there are sites that corroborate this.

For example, if a certain word or URL is posted on multiple threads on large bulletin boards like 5chan or Bakusai, the number of people who research or click on that word increases simultaneously. This fulfills the conditions for suggest display, and it will be preferentially displayed in the suggest. Then, the person who sees the first suggest will search again with that search word… and so on, spreading the word.

In addition to the above two, Google Suggest also has the personalityistic that the search results change depending on the current location. For example, if you search for “cafe” at Tokyo Station and Kyoto Station, the search results will be completely different. In other words, sites related to the area you searched for are displayed in the search results. It’s an algorithm designed to display sites that are considered useful based on the user’s search intent.

② Mechanism of Yahoo! JAPAN Suggest

Unlike Google, Yahoo! JAPAN’s suggest function is simple, and it is believed that the display of suggest is based on search volume,

  • Whether a lot of searches are being conducted with the target keyword

is the data that affects the display. In other words, the keywords that are displayed in Yahoo! JAPAN Suggest are those with a high number of searches.

In Yahoo! JAPAN Suggest, the reflection time is quick, and contents that became a topic on Twitter, etc., or contents that were prominently featured in the news are quickly reflected.

Causes of Suggest Contamination

In short, it is believed that suggest contamination occurs when many people conduct a lot of searches for “company name + negative word” such as “●● fraud”.

Therefore, by abusing the specifications of the search engines introduced above, it is possible to fill the suggest field with negative words and intentionally contaminate the suggest.

For example, it is believed that suggest contamination can be caused by repeatedly searching for negative words you want to display in suggest in multiple threads on a bulletin board, spreading links to URLs with negative words written on SNS, creating a large number of negative web pages targeting specific companies or individuals, etc.

In recent years, the damage from suggest contamination has been decreasing as search engine algorithms are optimized, but it will never be zero.

Risks of Ignoring Suggestive Contamination

Risks of Ignoring Suggestive Contamination

If suggestive contamination is ignored, it can lead to:

  • Decline in corporate brand image
  • Decrease in job applications
  • Decrease in employee motivation

These are some of the negative impacts on the company.

Risk 1: Decline in Corporate Brand Image

For instance, when a customer searches for your company’s product and sees negative words like:

  • “Product X – Defective”
  • “Product X – Accident”
  • “Product X – Worst”

What do you think their reaction would be?

Even if these words are baseless, the impression of the product will undoubtedly be tarnished. Customers who were initially interested in the product may become anxious and decide not to purchase it.

Risk 2: Decrease in Job Applications

For example, when our firm is searched on Google, suggestions such as:

  • “Monolith Law Office – Reputation”
  • “Monolith Law Office – Salary”
  • “Monolith Law Office – Hiring”

appear. This shows that many job seekers nowadays search for information about companies on the internet.

If negative words appear when they search, it’s not uncommon for applicants to become suspicious. There’s a risk that suggestive contamination could narrow the scope of recruitment.

Risk 3: Decrease in Employee Motivation

Furthermore, if a company or its products/services are negatively exposed through social media, it’s expected that employee motivation and productivity may decline. Thus, the impact on the internal workings of the company can be severe.

Issues with Suggest Pollution

Issues with Suggest Pollution

Suggest Pollution is Hard to Eradicate

One of the problems with suggest pollution is that once it is registered in a search engine, it is difficult to remove.

Even if a suggest has no basis, once it is displayed, the more negative it is, the more attention it tends to attract, and it is further searched out of curiosity.

Before you know it, it becomes established, displayed at the top, and a vicious cycle is created where it continues to be displayed as a word with a very strong association with the search term.

Suggest Pollution Can Be Done by Individuals

Another problem is that individuals can carry out pollution activities. In fact, on the internet, methods are being published to increase the relevance of keywords and pollute related keywords by creating a large number of pages on bulletin boards and “Yahoo! Chiebukuro (Japanese Yahoo! Answers)” using programs, and it is possible to purchase tools for this purpose.

While continuous posting on bulletin boards and posting the same content on multiple threads can be subject to deletion as “trolling”, if the content is revised in accordance with the purpose of the thread, it is possible to make a large number of posts individually in this way.

In other words, if you have a certain level of web knowledge, it is possible to manipulate suggests individually.

Removal of Suggest Pollution

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of Japan, in the so-called “right to be forgotten” case, has made the following comments about the social role of search engines:

The provision of search results by search engine operators supports the public in disseminating information on the Internet and obtaining necessary information from the vast amount of information on the Internet, and plays a significant role as the foundation of information distribution on the Internet in modern society. Therefore, it can be said that if the provision of specific search results by a search engine operator is deemed illegal and its removal is forced, it is not only a restriction on consistent expression in line with the above policy, but also a restriction on the role played through the provision of search results.

Supreme Court of Japan, January 31, 2017 (2017 in Gregorian calendar)

Because of such precedents, even if clear suggest pollution has occurred, search engines are often reluctant to take action to remove it.[ja]

Google’s Autocomplete Policy[ja]

However, in the case of Google, it stipulates in its autocomplete policy:

At Google, we do our best to prevent inappropriate search suggestions from being displayed, but we can’t always guarantee this. If you believe that a displayed search suggestion violates any of the following policies, please check how to report a search suggestion.

Quoted from: How Google’s autocomplete suggestions work[ja]

It lists specific violations such as:

  • Search suggestions with violent or brutal content
  • Search suggestions containing explicit sexual expressions, vulgar expressions, or blasphemous content
  • Search suggestions that incite, tolerate, or promote hatred against a specific group
  • Inappropriate and defamatory search suggestions against celebrities
  • Dangerous search suggestions

There is a possibility that these can be removed by applying through the removal request form.

In the case of suggest pollution affecting companies, Google states that it “may remove content in response to a request, under applicable law, or in compliance with a court order.” Therefore, it is possible to make a removal request for content that is defamatory or legally problematic.[ja]

Request for Disclosure of Sender Information

For articles on the site where negative posts have been made, it is possible to apply for a provisional disposition for removal, request the disclosure of sender information to identify the poster, and seek damages for the act.

Notifying Google and Yahoo! JAPAN of this court decision and making a removal request is the most reliable way to deal with suggest pollution.

If the infringement of rights is recognized in court, both Google and Yahoo! JAPAN will respond promptly. In the case of Yahoo! JAPAN, it takes about 3 to 7 days, and for Google, it takes about 1 to 2 months to be removed.[ja]

Conclusion: Consult a Lawyer to Remove Suggestive Contamination

Not only can the display of malicious suggestions and related keywords cause reputational damage to a company, but it can also potentially harm its employees.

However, malicious information can spread rapidly regardless of its truthfulness, making it difficult to completely remove if left unattended.

If you fall victim to suggestive contamination, it’s crucial to promptly respond with deletion requests and other measures to minimize the damage. Please feel free to consult with Monolith Law Office, which has extensive experience in dealing with online reputation issues.

Managing Attorney: Toki Kawase

The Editor in Chief: Managing Attorney: Toki Kawase

An expert in IT-related legal affairs in Japan who established MONOLITH LAW OFFICE and serves as its managing attorney. Formerly an IT engineer, he has been involved in the management of IT companies. Served as legal counsel to more than 100 companies, ranging from top-tier organizations to seed-stage Startups.

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