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Rank outsider sues Google over zero score

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Google has defended its right to rank web pages in any manner it likes in a groundbreaking court case over its search engine results.

The search giant is being sued in California by a parenting website which claims it lost most of its traffic when its ranking dropped to zero. The site, Kinderstart.com, claims that it was downgraded because it is a competitor to Google. A motion by Google to dismiss the case was heard in California last Friday, where Kinderstart argued that it competed with Google because it also offers a search facility on its site.

Kinderstart claims that its traffic dropped by 70% when its page ranking was set to zero. The site claims that "websites and other users in the public, seeking connections through the search engine, are allegedly restricted in speech, ideas exchange and commerce," because of Google's actions, according to a statement from the company's lawyers, Global Law Group.

Google argued in court that its rankings were opinions and therefore protected by the US constitution's first amendment, which protects freedom of speech.

Kinderstart wanted Google to reveal to the court exactly how it ranks pages. Google's lawyer David Kramer of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati said only that the process combined mathematical algorithms and subjective judgements on website quality.

The judge in the case, Jeremy Fogel, seemed to indicate that a forced disclosure of Google's methods was unlikely. "You can't just file a blanket lawsuit and say, 'We think we're going to find some stuff'," he said, according to the IDG News Service.

Kinderstart's class action suit states:

"As the world’s most widely used and increasingly ubiquitous search engine, millions of Websites of persons, businesses and organizations in the United States are not accessible, seen or heard by a multitude of persons, businesses and organizations as users if the electronic link or connection is severed by [Google].

"Further, many of these Websites that are improperly and/or unlawfully severed from connection through the search engine, are in the very same competitive markets as Defendant. Such violations, individually and together, warrant declaratory and injunctive relief as well as monetary damages according to proof under applicable law based on injuries to Plaintiffs’ person, property, and businesses."

The judge has set a hearing date in September when the court will consider an application from Google to have certain of Kinderstart's allegations ruled out of the court case on the basis of California's free speech laws.

"From Judge Fogel's questions, it was clear that he has read the papers very carefully. We look forward to his ruling," said Michael Kwun, Senior Litigation Counsel for Google.

Copyright © 2006, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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