In a somewhat unprecedented turn of events, a federal judge in Florida has decided that Google will be required to defend themselves in court in a lawsuit stemming from de-listing hundreds of websites from one particular company.
According to TheStack.com, E-Ventures Worldwide, a company that does search engine optimization (SEO), is suing Google after the world’s largest search engine slammed them for constituting as “pure spam” in 2014 and removed all of the domains they worked with from their site.
This isn’t the first time Google has been sued over something like this, but it is the first time they have been unsuccessful in getting the suit thrown out before it has a chance to get to court. Historically, Google has relied on First Amendment protections, essentially claiming they have the right to take virtually any action they see fit when it comes to ranking, listing, and utilization of their search engine.
According to Arstechnica, U.S. District Judge John Steele issued the following statement in his decision to allow the suit to be heard:
“While a claim based upon Google’s PageRanks or order of websites on Google’s search results may be barred by the First Amendment, plaintiff has not based its claims on the PageRanks or order assigned to its websites. Rather, plaintiff is alleging that as a result of its pages being removed from Google’s search results, Google falsely stated that e-ventures’ websites failed to comply with Google’s policies. Google is in fact defending on the basis that e-ventures’ websites were removed due to e-ventures’ failure to comply with Google’s policies. The Court finds that this speech is capable of being proven true or false since one can determine whether e-ventures did in fact violate Google’s policies. This makes this case distinguishable from the PageRanks situation. Therefore, this case does not involve protected pure opinion speech, and the First Amendment does not bar the claims as pled in the Second Amended Complaint.”
Approximately 131 billion searches are conducted on the web each month worldwide. Google is by far the most popular of search engines. E-Ventures is arguing that by, in essence, blacklisting their company from Google they’ve caused not only irreparable harm to them, but are creating an “anti-competitive” environment. E-Ventures claims that Google is basically trying to strong arm companies into using their pay-to-use AdWords program instead of a company like their own.
Whether or not Google will ultimately win or lose this case could have a big effect on the state of online search going forward. Google has until May 26 to respond to the judge’s ruling.