Saturday, 7 October 2006

Google selling page rankings and lying about it?

Last Thursday, Google won a motion to dismiss a trademark infringement suit brought by Rescuecom Corporation. The court's decision is here, news coverage is here, and commentary is here. Others have already written about the trademark issues and other fallout (see: 1, 2, 3, 4). I am more interested in a small paragraph on page 4 of the court's decision, which indicates that Google is selling page rankings.

The court wrote:

Defendant [Google] does not always identify sponsored links as advertisements and it designs those appearing at the top of the search results to look like a part of the "non-sponsored" search results. As a result, Internet users may infer, based on a sponsored link's appearance at the top of the list of search results, that a sponsored link is the most relevant website among the search results. An Internet user can "click" on the sponsored link with a mouse to go to the advertiser's website. Advertisers pay defendant based on the number of clicks the sponsored link receives.

Passing off paid ads as relevant search results would mean the end of Google's integrity. If, of course, that is really what is happening. I have not read the parties' briefs, so I do not know where the court learned this "fact". This section of the decision was a summary of the facts alleged in Rescuecom's Complaint, which the court must assume to be true for purposes of this motion — not the court's own conclusions.

For its part, Google insists that its famous PageRank system is unbiased and not for sale and that AdWords ads (keyword-linked ads) appear only to the side of "relevant search results."

This may simply be a case of sloppy writing by the court or by the plaintiff. Or it could be a lie — by the plaintiff (to the court) or by Google (to the public). Either way, I am curious to know the truth.

Posted at 4:44:50 PM | Permalink

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Topics: Cyberlaw
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