Google may inadvertently be identifying anonymous rape victims

Google's auto-complete function has caused controversy after it was revealed the search engine may be identifying rape victims in the UK.

The Times reports entering the name of an attacker can cause the victim's name to pop up. Entering the name of a victim of a complainant can also reveal the name of their attacker, the news outlet alleges.

The names can pop up thanks to the search engine's algorithm, which picks up references on social media.

Reporters at The Times were able to find the name of alleged victims in several cases using simple search terms, which were then passed on to Google.

A rape charity has warned the accidental naming would deter victims from reporting their experiences, while a victims' advocate was shocked by the naming.

"[It is] beyond shocking that Google is facilitating access to the names of victims," said Fay Maxted, chief executive of the Survivors Trust.

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

A spokesperson for Google says it does not allow auto-completes or search recommendations that breach laws, and removed all examples submitted by The Times.

"We recently expanded our removals policy to cover predictions which disparage victims of violence and atrocities, and we encourage people to send us feedback about any sensitive or bad predictions," a spokesperson said.

Police in the UK have warned internet users to report any naming of victims as soon as possible to ensure they were taken down.