Juan Carlos Perez, IDG News Service
Google today will try to convince a judge to dismiss a lawsuit that
challenges the heart of the company's business: its methods for
indexing and ranking Web pages.
In March, Google was sued by KinderStart.com, which alleges it
suffered crippling financial harm after its Web site got dropped from
the search engine's index.
The case reflects the enormous impact of search engines on the
business world at large. It has become crucial for many businesses to
rank well in search engine results. An entire industry has sprouted to
serve this "search engine optimization" need.
As the world's most popular search engine, Google wields the strongest
influence. Having a Web site that ranks low or disappears altogether
from the Google index can have devastating effects for a company. This
is what KinderStart.com alleges happened to it.
"It's a very important case for many reasons. Everyone uses search
engines, so the question is: Are you seeing true and faithful
results?" said Gregory Yu, KinderStart.com's attorney.
"Google shouldn't have completely free range to be able to remove
sites or hit them with a zero PageRank," he added, referring to the
patented technology at the heart of Google's algorithmic ranking.
KinderStart.com is charging Google, among other things, with violating
its right to free speech; illegally using a monopoly position to harm
competitors; engaging in unfair practices and competition; committing
defamation and libel; and violating the Federal Communications
Act. The Web publisher seeks a class action certification for the
lawsuit, damages and injunctive relief, among other things.
In motions filed in May, Google argues that Judge Jeremy Fogel, of the
U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose
Division, should dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the case boils down
to one essential question: Should search engines or should courts
determine Web sites' relevancy? "If KinderStart were right... neither
Google nor any other search engine could operate, as it would
constantly face lawsuits from businesses seeking more favorable
positioning," Google's motion reads.
Google also asks the judge to strike three of the suit's counts,
alleging they violate Google's exercise of free speech in connection
with a public issue. This is prohibited under a California law called
the Anti-SLAPP statute, Google argues.
KinderStart.com, based in Norwalk, California, began publishing a Web
site for parents of children under 7 years old in May 2000 and in 2003
the site joined Google's AdSense ad network, according to the
complaint. Yet, starting in March and April 2005, the Web site
suffered a "cataclysmic" fall in traffic of about 70 percent and a
drop in AdSense revenue of about 80 percent, from which it hasn't
recovered, and which the company blames on its removal from the Google
KinderStart.com claims it has never been notified by phone, mail or in
person of the reason for its Web site's exclusion. Google states in
its Web site that it reserves the right to remove Web sites from its
index for various reasons. KinderStart.com states it hasn't knowingly
violated any of Google's webmaster guidelines.
In February, Google decided to remove the German Web site of car maker
BMW for allegedly trying to deceive its search robot to gain higher
placement. Days later Google reincorporated the site to its index,
saying BMW had undone the offending changes, although BMW never
admitted any wrongdoing.
Copyright 2006 PC World Communications, Inc.