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Google’s Matt Cutts Weighs In On Suing Over Search Rankings

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Here in the U.S. past legal battles have pretty much established that search rankings are a matter of free speech. Otherwise, we’d have probably seen a lot more search rankings-related lawsuits by now (though it hasn’t stopped complaints about how Google shows its own content in search results).

Still, the topic has come up yet again. A blogger, who goes by the name of Fogus, got some discussion going on Twitter:

 

He then blogged about the tweet, adding, “After tweeting I thought a little deeper and came to fear the possibilities.”

He mentions the ordeal currently facing The Oatmeal, in which it is being threatened with a suit by what he calls “a content bottom-feeder”.

Fogus’ post was picked up on Hacker News, where Google’s own Matt Cutts talked about the notion of suing companies over PageRank (h/t: Search Engine Roundtable). Cutts says in his comment:

On the search engine side, there’s been a couple of solid court decisions in the United States:

- In SearchKing vs. Google, a company sued because it didn’t like its rankings/PageRank. SearchKing had been selling links that passed PageRank, which violates Google’s quality guidelines. The court determined that “PageRanks are opinions – opinions of the significance of particular web sites as they correspond to a search query. Other search engines express different opinions, as each search engine’s method of determining relative significance is unique. The Court simply finds there is no conceivable way to prove that the relative significance assigned to a given web site is false.” As a result, Google was entitled to “full constitutional protection” for its opinions.

- In KinderStart.com vs. Google, a company sued Google over a lower ranking. The judge not only dismissed that case, he allowed sanctions against KinderStart’s counsel for making various claims (like Google skewing results for political/religious reasons) that couldn’t be proven. So in the U.S., we have a couple very nice court cases that establish that search engine rankings are opinions and protected speech. If someone tried to sue over a set of search results, I believe they would find that a very hard case to make.

Of course, things like libel and defamation apply online as well as offline.

You can read the full text of the court decision for SearchKing vs. Google here (pdf). You can read KinderStart.com vs. Google here (pdf).

Google’s Matt Cutts Weighs In On Suing Over Search Rankings
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  • Roger M

    Google many not get sued about the SERP ranking but if they don’t return relevant results people will move on to other search engines.

    When it comes to Google+ Local, can get sued left right and center, for displaying wrong info like address, category, phone numbers, map pin, directions etc and for allowing competitors to manipulate reviews, rating etc. Google is sitting duck on this front with their current local listing system.

  • Parkin

    I note that some posts and chit-chat links are missing?

    In accordance to freedom of speech, Google disables a YouTube Video comments on Google’s new Privacy Policy.

    See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nNnXxKKB0WE , not so free to speak?

    Yep, we respect the first amendment but only when it favors us!

    Google has commissioned legal experts to define Freedom of Speech and its First Amendment Rights as a Search Engine.

    See: http://www.volokh.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/SearchEngineFirstAmendment.pdf

    Panda made a comment – link on my post:

    http://www.fairsearch.org/general/ftc-commissioner-sees-through-googles-first-amendment-defense/

    Matt Cutt’s posts a related article on Google’s First Amendment Rights, I will post latter.

    http://blog.fogus.me/2012/06/12/panda-loss-as-libel/

    http://www.webpronews.com/googles-matt-cutts-weighs-in-on-suing-over-search-rankings-2012-06

    http://www.seroundtable.com/google-sue-negative-seo-15294.html

    Its my opinion that Google wants to squeeze every last dime from small business to make its share holders happy,
    Penguin algo was released days after the “First Amendment Rights as a Search Engine” with intent to force small business into Adwords.

    The result, was more collateral damage than G anticipated, and have been trying to fix its search ever since.

    See: http://www.seomoz.org/blog/the-bigfoot-update-aka-dr-pete-goes-crazy

    seo101 has more than once confirmed this, “its Google’s web site that it can do what it wants”.

    I asked, seo101 if he was a Google employee, response ‘non of your business” .

    I see a class action law suite against Google for “willful attack” on small business, to build its bottom line.

    Thoughts, comments, corrections welcome!

  • Parkin

    Links to the above comment by me:

    https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!categories/webmasters/crawling-indexing–ranking

    and

    https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!categories/webmasters/chit-chat

  • Jay

    google/youtube does skew search results for political reasons simply do any search on youtube and then the same with google using a site specific search with the same keywords proves it. google puts liberal results at the top. compare view counts for liberal and conservative searches as well. liberal searches are through the roof conservative views are always low. google won’t outright sandbox conservative sites they simply bury the results well past the third page because google knows the average websurfer never goes past the third page.

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