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Reuters/Brendan McDermid
The people’s counselor.
INQUIRING MINDS

These are the legal questions Americans, Canadians, and Brits ask Google most

Ephrat Livni
By Ephrat Livni

Senior reporter, law & politics, DC.

You can learn a lot about people based on their legal questions, especially the queries that they probably wouldn’t ask anyone but Google. For example, you’ll discover that in Canada in the past year, folks have most wanted to know whether they can marry themselves, which raises some follow-up questions, like, “What the hell?!”

The software service company SEM Rush, based in Boston, compiled data on what people in the US, the UK, and Canada were asking Google between May 2018 and May 2019. The compilation is focused on questions that begin with the phrase, “is it legal to…”

It turns out that there is some overlap in concern among people in the three regions, but also some interesting differences.

In Canada, an average of 190 people per month asked if it was legal to marry yourself. Indeed, this was the most common legal query in the nation, whereas in the US and the UK, this question never comes up. But the Brits are most interested in a related question, asking—more than 1,800 times a month on average—whether it’s legal to marry a cousin, a query that Americans ask on average more than 1,100 times a month when combining questions about first cousins and cousins generally. Canadians ask about wedding a cousin—first and otherwise—on average 253 times a month.

In the US, the most common question was, “Is it legal to buy edibles online?” The question about food products made with marijuana was posed an average of 1,800 times a month. Given the variations between state laws and the federal prohibition on cannabis, the query is reasonable. In Canada, where cannabis is legal, that question comes up an average of 252 times per month. In the UK, weed is illegal and edibles aren’t as much of a concern apparently. The question ranks 29 on the list of most common queries, asked about 105 times per month.

Interestingly, in both the US and UK, people really want to know if they can drive barefoot legally. This was the second most common query in both countries, with Americans posing the question about 800 times a month and Brits asking about 400 times in the same period. Canadians are much less concerned with the legality of driving barefoot, however—the question ranked 20th on their list and was posed only about 50 times per month.

Perhaps telling is the fact that Americans also asked a lot about whether it is legal to sleep in a car, an option some homeless people are forced to resort to. It was the third most asked US question, averaging about 780 queries a month. In the UK, this question was the 11th most common query, asked about 200 times a month, while the third most asked question was whether it’s legal to stop a father from seeing their children. In Canada, the legality of sleeping in a car was 22nd on the national list, asked about 50 times a month.

Everyone seems to be interested in whether they can record conversations legally. In Canada, questions related to recording conversations and phone calls without consent were the fifth, sixth, and seventh most common queries, amounting to an average of 385 questions per month. In the UK, the fourth most common query, posed an average of about 350 times a month, was whether it’s legal to record a conversation. And in the US, this was the sixth most common query, asked about 675 times per month, with an additional 400 or so queries monthly asking about recording phone calls specifically.

Also notable, hundreds of Americans and dozens of Canadians every month inquire into the legality of owning a wolf. In Britain, about 100 people per month want to know if it’s legal to own a pet fox.