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LawMeme Publishes Court Ruling in Search King vs Google
Brett_Tabke

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 5:44 am on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

Lawmem has again published [research.yale.edu] the courts initial ruling [research.yale.edu] on the Google response to the Search King Complaint.

There are some interesting tid bits in the ruling:

Google got the court to agree with their assertation that PageRank value consituted an opinion and was thus covered by the First Amendment:

Accordingly, the Court concludes that Google's PageRanks are entitled to First Amendment protection.

It wasn't a 100% victory, and left the door open to an eye raising possiblity:

"Contrary to Google's contention, the disclosure of the source code would not alter the status of the parties, and the Court notes that the disclosure could be accomplished through a protective order or by submission under seal, thereby preserving the confidential nature of the information.".

In the conclusion, the court said:

...the Court concludes that SearchKing has not established a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.

 

JayC

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 8:55 am on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

From the Order, with added emphasis to a few phrases:

...PageRank, which represents the significance of a given web page as it corresponds to a search query. The PageRank is derived from a combination of factors that include text-matching and the number of links from other web pages that point to the PageRanked web site. The higher the PageRank, the more closely the web site in question supposedly matches the search query, and vice versa.

Is it just me, or does the Court seem to have an inaccurate understanding of PageRank?

chiyo

WebmasterWorld Senior Member chiyo us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 9:14 am on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

Good point JC.. unless Google has changed things themselves changing the basis of PR at its roots. I don't see evidence of the latter though.
Its more likely as you say - the beak got it wrong.

dkoller

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 11:23 am on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

Just thinking about what JayC said in terms of the case.

Basically they inserted 'PageRank' where 'SERP' should be.

Still though, the argument holds becuase PR is a good portion of the resulting SERP (the other main part being text-matching). In very simplified terms:

SERP = PR score + text-matching score

So even with the improper definition of pagerank, the argument remains the same, i think. (Shout out if you think this is wrong)

SlyOldDog

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 11:31 am on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

Not necessarily. I've been thinking about this a lot since the September update. I get a feeling that the keywords linking to your site are weighted by the pagerank of the linking site, thereby making a "keyword pagerank".

We have some experience to support this. For example, we have pagerank 6, but rank best for the keywords in the link from the highest pagerank site linking to us.

JayC

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 3:59 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

For example, we have pagerank 6, but rank best for the keywords in the link from the highest pagerank site linking to us.

Sure, but that doesn't mean that the content is taken into account in calculating PageRank. Many different things are part of the overall ranking process -- and it certainly could be that anchor text from high-PR pages is given more weight than that from lower-PR pages. But again, that doesn't mean it affects your PageRank.

It's not really relevant to the Court's decision, but I just found it interesting that the understanding of PageRank seems sketchy at best. Interesting, not surprising.

Brad

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 4:43 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

But the case was not dismissed either.

I read that SK is arguing that PR really is an objective measure because an opinion cannot get a patent - under US patent law. So if it really is an opinion can Google patent it?

I guess the judge will sort it out. Sure is not boring though. ;)

Fischerlaender

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 5:48 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

Another quote from the rule:
Google's decision to intentionally decrease PageRanks for reasons unrelated to the factors ordinarily taken into account by the mathematical algorithm that produces the PageRank has distorted the objectivity of the PageRank system.

This sounds like a slap in the face for Google. The objectivity of the PageRank is the heart and soul of Google and now a court has stated that this objectivity is distorted.

Oh, and I'm very interested in this patent thing: Will Google either lose this case or its patent?

Brett_Tabke

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 5:53 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

I agree JC. What's also interesting is Google could put a pr of 7 back on the site, then switch the algo to be based on 100. Or switched from a green bar to a thumbs up/down icon. I bet they'd even have one for "bad neighborhood".

JayC

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 6:05 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

The objectivity of the PageRank is the heart and soul of Google and now a court has stated that this objectivity is distorted.

I think it'd be more accurate to say that the "heart and soul" of Google is the objectivity and accuracy of the rankings or search results, not of PageRank specifically. And that objectivity is what they were attempting, through the manual adjustment of the PageRank of SK-related sites, to protect.

Even referring to PageRank, why does a manual adjustment mean that it's not "objective?" The argument can be made that the automatic or mathematical algorithms were shown to be vulnerable to a manipulation that compromised objectivity, so a manual adjustment was made to compensate.

BigDave

WebmasterWorld Senior Member bigdave us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 6:35 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

With Google's filings, they intentionally blurred the line between PageRank and SERPs. It is much easier to get the ruling in their favor by having that happen.

Now, we all understand PageRank and being what was patented by Stanford. But what was patented was an algorithm that happened to use the word PageRank to describe it. The algorithm is what is patented, not the name of it.

On the other hand, Google can apply the Trademarked (not patented) name PageRank to anything that they want. They do not even have to use the original concept of PageRank to come up with PageRank.

To overturn the patent SK would have to come up with some very convincing prior art. Google stating that current PageRank is opinion will have no bearing on any patent case where there is a defined algorithm.

homegirl

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 6:36 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

Need some help here from those who have read the actual briefs.

Question #1: Didn't Google manually adjust (downgrade) the SearchKing.com (index) page? And thus, this had repercussions for all the pages (and sites) within its network?

Question #2: Independent of #1, did Google also manually adjust the PR for individual pages (and sites) within the SK network?

JayC's point about Google's attempt to manually compensate for manipulation- with the goal of objectivity- is well-taken. However, I would argue that PR itself is based on an a set of criteria that is itself objectively-determined. For example, if you and I meet, we have some shared understanding of what "relevance" means and we can hash out the finer points. Ditto how well a site meets relevance for a particular search phrase.

Google never attempted to create some sort of AI-process that would tap into a user's subjective realm. Rather, they sought to meet some sort of general criteria of "relevance" via their algorithm. Their model is successful. But not because they happen to tap into what people like or dislike per se- but because they tap into what people think is a relevant match for their search (even for the most common terms).

Thus if Google has to make a manual adjustment, doesn't it also have to show how that adjustment leads to greater relevancy? Or objectivity? Does anyone know if Google ever made the case (it didn't need to legally) that by making the manual adjustment, the relevancy for certain search phrases was actually improved? Does anyone know if sites on the SK network ranked high for terms that were irrelevant?

Brett_Tabke

WebmasterWorld Administrator brett_tabke us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 6:48 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

The court said it it that way, but made no statements about how that was acheived. It could have been the result of many factors. Such as spam could have been found on linking websites, and those linking websites could have been the ones to get the boot. There's no indication or admission by Google of what actually happened other than they admit the result was due to their actions.

>PR itself is based on an a set of criteria that is
>itself objectively-determined.

Well, the court called it an "opinion" and it was covered by first admendment protection. So it really doesn't matter how it was arrived at.

homegirl

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 8:56 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

Surely the "how" of how something is arrived at- provides the basis by which the court deems something an "opinion". If the court is to be persuaded that ranking is not simply opinion, it will be because of the criteria for that assessment. Or else, couldn't a health company (e.g. Metabolife or some such) claim they shouldn't be sued for publicizing their professional opinion that one can lose weight with their product?

Google can't have it both ways, or can it? Google's words: "A Google search is an easy, honest and objective way to find high-quality websites with information relevant to your search." One searches on Google because of PageRank's vaunted objectivity. But now we're to understand PR as "objective opinion"? I thought opinion, by nature, is subjective?

Or perhaps Google means they employ fair opinions? (Since the fairness of an opinion can be called into question.)

Brett's right that legally, since the Court recognizes it as opinion, it's protected and yadda yadda. I'm not sure what principles of law would support a reversal. It also makes me wonder what the repercussions are for other search engines. Remember the whole Nader/CommercialAlert complaint about deceptive advertising? Couldn't the search engines have responded that because they're providing opinion, they're entitled to position their opinions in whatever manner they see fit (including the paid advertising)?

grnidone



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 9:14 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)


Thus if Google has to make a manual adjustment, doesn't it also have to show how that adjustment leads to greater relevancy? Or objectivity? Does anyone know if Google ever made the case (it didn't need to legally) that by making the manual adjustment, the relevancy for certain search phrases was actually improved? Does anyone know if sites on the SK network ranked high for terms that were irrelevant?

Exactly, Homegirl.

If indeed Page Rank is an opinion of the importance of a page, then how does that opinion change if nothing on the site has changed? If the page has the same content today as yesterday, then why would the PR change?

Their arguement doesn't hold water.

The only way it makes any sense for Google to do what they did was to hurt a site for doing something they didn't like.

JayC

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 11:08 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

If indeed Page Rank is an opinion of the importance of a page, then how does that opinion change if nothing on the site has changed? If the page has the same content today as yesterday, then why would the PR change?

Their arguement doesn't hold water.

I think that's putting too fine a point on it -- finer than a court is likely to.

The algorithms behind "PageRank" are, in the opinion of Google's management, an objective way of determining the importance of individual web pages. They make whatever changes they see fit to PageRank and those algorithms in order to bring greater relevance to search results for given queries. Their opinion, further, is that those changes enhance the ability to judge "the significance of a particular web site as it corresponds to a search query."

A key passage in the Order is this:

While Google's decision to intentionally deviate from its mathematical algorithm... may raise questions about the "truth" of the PageRank system, there is no conceivable way to prove that the relative significance assigned to a given site is false. A statement of relative significance... is inherently subjective in nature.

Google could not say for example, "the SK sites now have fewer links to them than they used to;" that would be provably false. But they can say "our measure of the significance of these sites is lower than it used to be. We call that PageRank, which is a combination of mathematical procedures and measurements and some other tinkering we do once in a while to help to more accurately reflect our opinion."

No matter what machinations go into determining PageRank, then, for any given site Google themselves can decide the relative significance of pages and of sites -- in any way they choose.

Google can't have it both ways, or can it? Google's words: "A Google search is an easy, honest and objective way to find high-quality websites with information relevant to your search." One searches on Google because of PageRank's vaunted objectivity. But now we're to understand PR as "objective opinion"?

Google can have it both ways, because the above is a mixing of First Amendment arguments made in a courtroom with marketing claims. The "vaunted objectivity" is PR ("public relations," not "PageRank"); but "a statement of opinion... which does not contain a provably false factual connotation will receive full constitutional protection" is a legal principle.

[edit]fixed typo[/edit]

[edited by: JayC at 11:26 pm (utc) on Jan. 27, 2003]

MJR

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 11:16 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

Apparently most of you did not catch SearchKing's attorney's post at the LawMeme forums (below the article). Furthrmore, I find it interesting that no one has posted SearchKing's attorney's response to the judge's ruling which sheds a whole lot more light on the suit and its direction - LawMeme certainly managed to miss it :)

JayC

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 11:23 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

It's also important to remember that this was just an order in response to a request for a preliminary injunction. Basically SearchKing asked the court to rule that they were suffering immediate harm and that Google should restore their PageRank before the full trial.

The judge wasn't convinced that the necessary factors weighed heavily enough in SK's favor, and denied the request. But this is by no means a final decision in the case, while it does provide some things to mull over (both for those of us who are just spectators and for the two sides involved in the case) and some insight into how the court is reading it all so far.

Crazy_Fool

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 11:30 pm on Jan 27, 2003 (gmt 0)

what i don't get is why this case ever got to court in the first place. googles terms state quite clearly that they do not guarantee any site will be listed, their webmaster guidelines state quite clearly that webmasters should not attempt to manipulate results / pagerank etc.

surely this says that google has the right to do what the hell they like with their own search engine, especially when they are not under contract?

so why didn't this get thrown out with a simple "google and SK do not have a business contract and therefore there is no case to answer"?

currybet

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 12:07 am on Jan 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

you may call yourself crazy_fool, but i think you are spot on. i don't see how google has any obligation to list any website or rank it at all.

what "objectively" can you see gives google the right to give Google News and MSNBC a higher PageRank than the BBC or CNN. nothing, except the fact that it is their decision, made by their own business.

Sure CNN could sue and say you have maliciously downgraded our PageRank, because we used to be above MSNBC and Google News didn't used to exist - but that is like arguing that there *is* one definitive list of the very best search results that are the absolute truth. and that they are set in stone forever.

Of course Google is right to manually exclude or downgrade sites that it considers to be spam or to be harming the relevancy or integrity of its results.

Its patently the case that each search engine owns the right to list sites or not list sites as it sees fit.

Fischerlaender

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 12:26 am on Jan 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

In this case we have to distinguish clearly between the legal and the ethical aspects. It's beyond doubt that Google's action was legal. But the question to me is: Was it ethically correct?

There are several points why I feel that Google's reaction was not correct from this view:
1. The site that was intended to harm (if one follows Google's words) the PageRank system was pradnetwork.com, not searchking.com. So why was there a punishment for SK itself? (No, I really can't believe in a coincidence here ...)
2. If Google would punish every site that makes money out of its PageRank, then they would have to start punishing Yahoo. A lot of people buy(!) their Yahoo listings just because they were said that it would help within Google.
3. If Google would want to stop the misuse of links for the sole purpose of manipulating the PageRank then they would have to take action against any SEO.
4. Why did Google punish the SK pages that are containing Bob Massas view of this case with a PR 0? (esp. this page: www.searchking.com/news/sknews.htm)

With Google now having arrived at a market share of more than 60 percent (at least here in Germany), I think it is time to watch their behaviour with special care. I don't want to end with an internet which technique is controlled by Microsoft and which content is censored by Google.

MJR

10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 1:41 am on Jan 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

you may call yourself crazy_fool, but i think you are spot on. i don't see how google has any obligation to list any website or rank it at all.
That's because you miss the point of the lawsuit [not meaning to sound sarcastic].
Crazy_Fool

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 2:23 am on Jan 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

>>That's because you miss the point of the lawsuit

well i see the point of the lawsuit, what i don't see is why the court allowed it to proceed. there was no contract, therefore there should not have been any case for google to answer.

what am i missing there?

bird

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 3:06 am on Jan 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google has a patent on the method how to calculate PageRank. In constrast, the first amendment protection doesn't cover the method, but the opinion that was established as a result of using this method (probably in combination with others not covered by the patent).

A technical method and the result of that method are two completely different animals, which seems to have escaped SKs attorney.

BigDave

WebmasterWorld Senior Member bigdave us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 9:32 pm on Jan 28, 2003 (gmt 0)

Crazy_fool,

What you are missing is that the judge has not ruled on the motion to dismiss yet. The ruling was on the preliminary injunction.

There is still a chance that it will get tossed when she rules on the motion to dismiss.

Crazy_Fool

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 10:36 am on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

>>What you are missing is that the judge has not ruled on
>>the motion to dismiss yet

i see that BigDave, but i don't see why this is being discussed before a motion to dismiss. if there is no contract, then surely there is no case to answer?

Marcia

WebmasterWorld Senior Member marcia us a WebmasterWorld Top Contributor of All Time 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 10:42 am on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

Google has a patent on the method how to calculate PageRank

I believe it's actually Stanford that's the patent holder, that has to make a difference.

Brad

WebmasterWorld Senior Member 10+ Year Member



 
Msg#: 1799 posted 1:20 pm on Jan 29, 2003 (gmt 0)

It does lead to a truth in advertising problem for Google.

As of about a week ago, on the privacy disclosure page for the G. toolbar it says something about the PR indicator being an "objective" indicator or measure of importance. I don't think they can make that claim when they have a Federal Judge saying it is an opinion.

Ultimately, I don't think the searcher will notice if the term "objective" disappears from Google's site. As long as Google can supply the search results in the least amount of clicks the searcher will be happy.

However, webmasters, and SEO's, will notice.

It stands to reason, that as time goes on, Google will hand tweak, penalize or otherwise alter the PR of more and more sites, servers and hosts. At some point that has to start poisoning the well.

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