Here’s an interesting story for you – there seems to be a group of locksmiths who has filed a class action lawsuit against Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. It’s being claimed that the search engines (Google in particular) are purposely “flooding” organic results with “scam locksmith listings” that are known to be fake.

These locksmiths are arguing that the fake listings are forcing legitimate locksmiths to buy ads to gain access to customers who would end up never seeing them normally through organic search results.  The case is in Federal District Court in a Washington, DC.

These are some of the alleged facts from the complaint:

Defendants knowingly and deliberately flood organic search results displayed in response to queries such as “locksmith” (and related terms) with scam locksmith listings they know: 1) do not exist at all, or at least not at the locations indicated, 2) operate for the purpose of defrauding the consumer public, 3) are not licensed in jurisdictions mandating locksmith licensing, 4) are unregistered to do business in jurisdictions (such as DC) requiring business registration.

Defendants flood the market with fictitious listings to dilute Plaintiffs’ and other legitimate locksmiths’ listing in the organic and map results to the point of obscurity, thereby compelling legitimate locksmiths to pay Defendants for paid advertised results merely to be seen by the same prospective customers.

(emphasis added)

A break down of the legal claims that are being made by the locksmiths include: conspiracy, fraud, unfair competition and other claims under various state and federal laws.

According to the plaintiffs, it’s being argued that Google “is fully aware of the nation-wide scam problem and is doing little to address the issue” because it and the other search engines financially benefit from the presence of these scam listings.  It’s being claimed that most jurisdictions have licensing requirements for locksmiths and that these rules are being willfully disregarded by the search engines.

These search engines are definitely aware that they’ve been sued before over the same issue.

The plaintiffs represent a potentially nationwide class of workers.  They are asking for Google to stop showing results, listings and map pins for locksmiths that aren’t licensed in the jurisdiction.  Not only that, they are even asking the search engines to “cease and desist publishing paid advertisements for unlicensed locksmiths in jurisdictions requiring locksmith licensing.”

The damages that the plaintiffs are seeking include “lost good will and ongoing client relationships” as well as “lost publicity.” The plaintiffs are also seeking punitive damages.

Despite the fact that we can understand the locksmith’s situation, the law seems to favor Google, Yahoo and Bing.  It’s a good chance that they’ll probably be able to avoid liability under internet-publisher immunity provided by Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

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