Google will try to convince a judge on Friday to dismiss a lawsuit that challenges the heart of the company's business: its methods for indexing and ranking webpages.
In March, Google was sued by KinderStart.com, which alleges it suffered crippling financial harm after its 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 optimisation' need.
World wide web window monopoly
As the world's most popular search engine, Google wields the strongest influence. Having a 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.
Court or consensus?
In motions filed in May, Google argues that Judge Jeremy Fogel should dismiss the lawsuit, saying that the case boils down to one essential question: Should search engines or should courts determine 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 favourable 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 site for parents of children under seven 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 site suffered a "cataclysmic" fall in traffic of about 70 per cent and a drop in AdSense revenue of about 80 per cent, from which it hasn't recovered, and which the company blames on its removal from the Google index.
KinderStart.com claims it has never been notified by phone, mail or in person of the reason for its site's exclusion. Google reserves the right to remove sites from its index for various reasons. KinderStart.com states it hasn't knowingly violated any of Google's webmaster guidelines.Find - or begin - a discussion of this story in Macworld UK's busy Forums.