Google still faces legal spat with SEO biz that claimed it was wiped from web

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An attempt by Google to get a competition case against it thrown out on free speech grounds was itself thrown out this week.

The case [PDF], e-ventures LLC vs Google, working its way through a Florida District Court, has received little attention so far. It’s noteworthy mainly because it’s the first time an SEO (search engine optimization company) has challenged Google’s right to exclude entries from its search results on competition grounds. Your ball, your rules you might think. But life isn’t quite so simple when you’re a dominant player, and that’s what e-ventures is arguing.

In attempting to get the case thrown out, Google claimed its right to edit its Google Search results was protected by the First Amendment. But this wasn’t enough to quash the case, Judge John Steele decreed in a Middle District Court.

Google’s influence is such that “optimizing” your site to gain higher prominence in Google’s search rankings is very important to your business. And disappearing from Google search altogether is a kind of death sentence.

Five years ago, the search giant made more than 11 million websites disappear overnight with Google arguing they were “spammy,” or low quality.

The case
Google is being sued by Florida-headquartered e-ventures WorldWide LLC, a company with five global offices including one in central London, which argues that Google deleted its websites from the Google Search index, and then blocked it when it created new sites.

e-ventures argues that Google censored it to protect its paid search. The more effective the advice given by an SEO, the less its clients would need to pay Google for visibility via its Adwords operation. (We’re not passing comment on the merit of e-ventures’ argument – nor is the court).

“Google hopes that third parties pay Google to be ranked higher in Google’s search results, and e-ventures hopes that third parties pay an SEO provider, instead of Google, to achieve the same result. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that as a result, Google has an anti-competitive, economic motivation to eliminate the visibility of e-ventures’ websites on its search engine results,” e-ventures asserted.

e-ventures says claims made by “a third party with a personal vendetta against e-ventures caused Google to receive false information” about its sites. Five days later Google axed 231 sites from its Search as spammy. The number rose to 365. The site now operates here.

e-ventures argues the action breached Google’s own removal policies and that removals were narrow and targeted. It argues that sites were removed because they were affiliated with e-ventures.

Here’s where it gets more interesting. Google argued that its editing of its search results was protected speech, and so the case should be thrown out. e-ventures complained:

“Defendent … asserts that plaintiff’s claims are barred by the First Amendment because Google’s search results are constitutionally protected opinions, and the First Amendment protects Google from liability based on its removal of plaintiff’s websites from its search results.

“Google also argues that its search results are editorial judgments protected by the First Amendment.

“Google’s actions are not entitled to protection by the First Amendment because they did not involve content-based speech and, if speech was involved, it was unprotected misleading commercial speech.”

Google also argued that the case should be thrown out because of the “blanket” federal liability offered by the Communication Decency Act (CDA), Section 230. And, intriguingly, that e-ventures was libelling Google by merely suggesting that it was acting uncompetitively.


View the complete article here.