Overall, Courts int he US have helped that search engines have nearly complete discretion over the content presented on their pages ad ranking algorithms under the First Amendment of the US Constitution. For search engines, this is a defense that they can use against those companies who bring claims about the economic impact of ranking changes or Google’s SEO-related policies.
It seems there are times when this defense can be used though, as a court in Florida has allowed a case against Google to proceed, in which the search engine manually removed it, and categorized it as “pure spam” as well as in violation of quality guidelines. A legal tech writer Eric Goldman said that the Forida court disregarded “virtually all of Google’s arguments” to allow the lawsuit to go forward.
According to the court documents in this case, called e-ventures Worldwide, LLC vs. Google, in 2014 “e-ventures was notified by Google that 231 websites owned by e-ventures were being manually removed by Google from all of Google’s search results because they had been identified as ‘pure spam.’” After time, all or most of e-ventures’ URLs were delisted from search results.
According to the plaintiff, its sites weren’t spam and were delisted in error. They said that, because of the link removal, it suffered “irreparable harm” as a result. Since the plaintiff wasn’t able to overcome the ban and get back onto the results, it decided to sue Google.
E-ventures made a number of different claims and arguments in its complaint under several Florida statutes. What the claims boil down to is that that Google decided to remove the plaintiff’s sites because they violated Google’s policies simply to force the plaintiff to buy AdWords.
the Florida trial court allowed the plaintiff’s case to survive Google’s motion to dismiss at the start of the case. Just because of this, it doesn’t mean that there’s validity or merit of the underlying claims. The court said that there is simply enough facts to allow the plaintiff to proceed with the lawsuit.
In summary, according to Eric Goldman, the implications of allowing these kinds of cases to proceed — lawsuits against Google each time a ranking update or manual action by Google penalizes a publisher:
If Google can’t freely decide to downgrade or de-index what it considers to be “pure spam,” then Google faces liability pretty much any time it automatically or manually rejiggers its index (which always creates some winners and some potentially-litigious losers). It seems hard to believe that this case will be the one to break Google, especially given all of the prior attempts from more sympathetic plaintiffs, but that’s what makes this court’s initial ruling so disquieting.