5 июл. 2006 г.

Google tries to have page-ranking suit dismissed

From ICTWorld, 4 July 2006:

Google can use any criteria it wishes to rank Web sites, including downgrading competitors, a lawyer for the search giant told a federal judge on Friday.

KinderStart.com is suing Google because, it says, the company gave KinderStart's site a 'zero' ranking in its PageRank system and blocked the site. KinderStart's site, which provides information about parenting and related topics, including its own specialised search page, suffered a major drop in visits as a result, it claims.

The company wants to pursue the case as a class action on behalf of other Web sites that have suffered because they were blocked or given low PageRank numbers.

At the hearing, in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, in San Jose, Judge Jeremy Fogel heard arguments about a Google motion to dismiss the case.

Among other things, KinderStart says Google has defamed it, kept it from expressing itself in a public forum, and violated KinderStart's contract under Google's AdSense program, in which it carries ads distributed by Google and gets a commission when users click on them. KinderStart calls itself a competitor to Google in the specific area where it offers search results. As part of the suit, it wants Google to reveal how it comes up with its rankings.

Google says its search rankings are opinions and entitled to free speech protection. Although rankings are based partly on a mathematical algorithm, Google also studies the quality of sites and makes subjective judgments, says David Kramer, an attorney from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, who is representing Google.

Any Google user knows the rankings are opinions, and Google can make them using any criteria it wants - including giving poor rankings to competitors - without telling users, Kramer says. He did not concede that Google actually downgrades competitors. If KinderStart can sue Google because the search engine did not give its site enough promotion, there is nothing to stop archrivals Microsoft or Yahoo from doing the same thing, Kramer argues.

Judge Fogel was sceptical about KinderStart seeking to have Google's ranking criteria produced as evidence.

"You cannot just file a blanket lawsuit and say: 'We think we are going to find some stuff,'" Fogel says.

Google's position as a collector and arbiter of all sorts of information gives it unprecedented power, says Gregory Yu of Global Law Group, KinderStart's attorney in the case.

"We are going into uncharted territory," Yu told the judge. "We certainly are," Fogel replied.

The judge's next step will be to rule on what parts of KinderStart's case, if any, can go forward. He set a September 29 hearing on a separate motion by Google, in which the company wants to strike some claims from KinderStart's suit on the basis of a California law against suits that stifle a defendant's free speech rights.

At that hearing he will also hear KinderStart's arguments for a preliminary injunction to make Google restore the company's site to its index while the case was heard.