Judge: Google Can Deny Ads If It Wants To
The verdict is in: Google, or any other search engine, does not have to accept all advertisements submitted, officially giving search engines editorial control over the content of ads appearing in their network. The judge cited the First Amendment as the biggest reason.
Cyberlaw expert and professor Eric Goldman was quick to report the verdict in Landgon v. Google today, a lawsuit that named AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN as well. Christopher Langdon filed suit in May of last year after Google rejected political advertisements, citing their standard rule of denying ads that are personal attacks.
Google doesn’t allow ads for liquor, firearms, or gambling, for that matter.
Langdon operates NCJusticeFraud.com and ChinaIsEvil.com. The ads in question attacked North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper. Langdon also alleged that Google censored his ChinaIsEvil website, but it is pointed out, most interestingly, that the website was censored only on Google China, where Google is allowed to do that.
Simultaneously, Langdon submitted ads to Yahoo! and MSN. He claimed MSN ignored his requests and that Yahoo would only take ads from Yahoo-hosted sites.
In the suit, Langdon demanded "that Google-AOL, Yahoo! and Microsoft be required to place my ads for my websites…in prominent places on their search results for searches of my choosing; (d) that Defendants Google-AOL and Yahoo! honestly rank my websites…in their search results, as Microsoft does…"
The judge on the case disagrees – really, really disagrees – calling the suit "frivolous." Langdon’s case was dismissed. The verdict, says Goldman, will also add precedent for rejecting claims like the ones posed in the KinderStart case, where Google was sued over how it ranked websites.
The judge’s ruling outlined that:
Search engines have the right to reject ads, as guaranteed by the First Amendment. Goldman says the First Amendment covers Google’s Page Rank as protected opinion as well.
The oft-cited Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act provides immunity to online services for editorial content decisions.
Advertisers are not guaranteed freedom of speech through advertisements on search engines. Search engines are not state actors, but private entities with the right to reject speech.
The judge denied, however, Google’s request to dismiss Langdon’s breach of contract claim in this ruling. The judgment was an early ruling in an ongoing lawsuit, posed after exploring a number of claims. As the breach of contract claim couldn’t be ruled out with presented arguments against, it will continue on to the next stage. Goldman is "100% confident" that the claim will be dismissed then.