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Google sued for banning sites - possible class action
goodroi




msg:1236291
 12:28 am on Mar 18, 2006 (gmt 0)

In an attempt to force Google to reveal information about their ranking method, KinderStart filed a civil complaint against Google and is trying to get class action status in order to represent all sites that Google has banned.

[washingtonpost.com...]

Too early to say if this attempt will make any progress. It is interesting to notice the increasing number of lawsuits against the search engines as the Internet has become mainstream and people better understand the online economics.

 

bigjohnt




msg:1236441
 9:09 pm on Mar 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

It is a symbiotic relationship. Both benefit. Equally? That is a case by case thing. I cannot imagine any of my clients NOT wanting Google to spider them. Proprietary/client info perhaps, but not any information they put "out there" allowing Google or anyone else to read it, grab it and use it.
Like anyone who wants to copy my advertising and distribute for me, free of charge - FEEL FREE!

If search engines are the major way folks get to web sites - and they are - the issue is clear. We need them, they need us.
"The phone companies are build on the backs of people who have phones." But not those that are unlisted.
-- But I benefit from the people who want to call me, and are able to find me in the phone book. If I don't want them to call me, I can opt out.

I don't understand the angst of webmasters ire at Google for providing a service to us, and the user, and getting paid for it.
Without Google and other SE's what good would websites be excpet for leveraging offline efforts?

This whole "class action suit" smacks of taking a shot at Google for an out of court settlement - since they can afford it. An online "slip and fall" case.

Maybe I should sue Yahoo for changing their algorithm, and my top spot client falling to page 3 - since after all they make their money on the client's content. Monetary damages are staggering, punitive damages can be negotiated. And I did nothing wrong, and was not even banned, but suffered by THEIR evil-minded algo change.

It's just so silly.

Reno




msg:1236442
 9:17 pm on Mar 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

In terms of existing law, this suit may go against the plaintiff. However, do not be at all surprised if in the near future (couple years perhaps) we see new rules/regulations/laws to deal with situations like this.

I say that because many (if not most) judges and legislators are at an age in life where the new digital technology/online world of ecommerce is still mostly foreign to them. My guess is that it is primarily their staff that deal with all the email, websites, hardware upgrades, etc. But as the legislators' techno saavy increases, so too will the awareness of the extraordinary power that a company like Google has to make or break some small businesses (read: their constituents).

We can provide all the examples we want about phone companies, brick & mortar commerce, etc -- most of them are not going to be fully relevant in cyberworld. As far as the law is concerned, much of this is new territory and is being dealt with as the need arises (just look for example at the uncertainly about how to handle online taxes, the right to send unsolicited email, etc).

My prediction is that the courts and/or legislatures cannot/will not demand that Google "give" everyone a decent ranking in the database, but instead, will eventually require that a mechanism be put into place whereby Google (and/or any other company in a clearly dominant position) will not be able to severely damage a business through a dramatic drop in position, without first giving fair & adequate notice, and the opportunity for the business to correct the situation. The courts/legislatures will set new precedent if there is no existing precedent, and that will be that.

I would hope that Google will get ahead of the curve and do this themselves, without having to be told. I will be the first to applaud them if they do.

.....................................................

LifeinAsia




msg:1236443
 9:36 pm on Mar 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

What would be the point of a telephone directory with only phone numbers and names in it? How would you know if you have the correct Dave Smith?!

Ah, now you've caught on the why Google gathers information from your qeb site! How are people supposed to know if that's the web site they want to visit unless they have some sort of preview? Just like the phone book analogy, what's the point of a search engine that only lists URLs? (You can't have it both ways.)

You cannot use a blanket exclusion which keeps Gbot out.

Yes I can:
User-agent: *
Disallow: /

If you uphold the right of G to simply extract your content, then you are upholding the right of all bots and scrapers to do so.

Nope. You use the "Allow:" line to specify those bots you do want.

Gigablast is tearing through my site in spite of it being blocked ... This really is not reasonable behaviour IMV.

I agree. But don't condemn Google because other bots don't follow the rules. Google's bots DO follow the rules.

So Google is *not* "breaking into" anyone's web sites.

Going back to the store analogy, what Google does is more similar to a person coming into your store, then going out and telling all his friends what a wonderful store you have, encouraging them to visit you. But you have a crappy store, so the person decides not to tell his friends about you. So are you going to sue him because he didn't tell his friends about you?!

Miop




msg:1236444
 11:01 pm on Mar 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

< It is a symbiotic relationship. Both benefit. >

Agreed.

<Equally? That is a case by case thing. I cannot imagine any of my clients NOT wanting Google to spider them. Proprietary/client info perhaps, but not any information they put "out there" allowing Google or anyone else to read it, grab it and use it.
Like anyone who wants to copy my advertising and distribute for me, free of charge - FEEL FREE!>

But if scraper sites do it, G might see you have a duplicate content problem and penalise you. You would then feel affronted that someone else has stolen your content and screwed up your rankings and lost your income. Even worse, they might doctor it in some way and your site ends up in the p*rn section and filtered from view! :)
People who produce promotional material do prefer to retain control over its distribution. If people constantly bombard your letterbox with junk mail for example, you might get so peed off that you decide never to use that company for anything, when the distributor might have been someone who copied your leaflet and the posted it out to a millions homes, with their advertising at the top. They are not only causing a nuisance which you are then associated with, but also using *your* product as promotional material for *them*. People who produce catalogues very often don't want that material reproduced without permission, even if it means greater business for them.
The point I'm trying to make is that even if it benefits you in some way, or because in one (major) case youy like the results, that is not IMV an argument against being able to control how your content is used.

<If search engines are the major way folks get to web sites - and they are - the issue is clear. We need them, they need us.>

Indeed.

<"The phone companies are build on the backs of people who have phones." But not those that are unlisted.
-- But I benefit from the people who want to call me, and are able to find me in the phone book. If I don't want them to call me, I can opt out.

I don't understand the angst of webmasters ire at Google for providing a service to us, and the user, and getting paid for it.>

I think the angst is about the fact that the lack of control over what happens to your content can affect your economic wellbeing so drastically. Surely this is the reason why people spend zillions on SEO specialists - like insurance - if it were true that simply building sites for your users was sufficient, that would not happen. The way that SE's operate means that your income is not predictable - trying to make sales forecasts and decisions about projected requirements, staff, stock etc. under these circumstances is very difficult compared to the 'Real World'. Maybe the level of angst this time is because so many people seem to have been so badly affected. I'm not sure how this compares to previous updates, but from my reading of this forum, a hell of a lot of well-established businesses have been damaged.
There are other issues too - for example Google's cache contains very outdated pages (by some years) of my site that no longer exist. I am having trouble getting content removed or updated. This is a concern to me because it misrepresents my site. These things are important to me but I have no control over what happens to that data. Much of the venting is due to frustration of people who simply don't know what to do about lots of things anymore - loss of control of your content!

>Without Google and other SE's what good would websites be excpet for leveraging offline efforts?>

There could be a thriving community without Google - sites link to one another quite freely and there are zillions of directories which might actually be better for checking out the range of available content than SE's. When you use an SE, you are basically relying on someone else's opinion of what is a suitable result for you. That doesn't mean that the result will not be suitable, but that you are excluded from seeing results which might be *more* suitable, or just as good but different.

<This whole "class action suit" smacks of taking a shot at Google for an out of court settlement - since they can afford it. An online "slip and fall" case.>

Maybe - can't see G paying out. Have they ever?
I think they do have a case, but that they are not making the right case.

<Maybe I should sue Yahoo for changing their algorithm, and my top spot client falling to page 3 - since after all they make their money on the client's content. Monetary damages are staggering, punitive damages can be negotiated. And I did nothing wrong, and was not even banned, but suffered by THEIR evil-minded algo change.

It's just so silly. >

It's not really about people falling to page three though is it? It's about sites going supplemental, G changing the way it sees your site so radically that it drops out of site altogether, or gets banned altogether.
What people are asking for is very basic - customer service of *some* level. Some warning - a phone number, non-automated emails, some assistance with technical issues.
Ted pointed out that they have started emailing sites which are breaking the rules to warn them that they face a penalty if they don't clean up their act - that's a good thing of course, but there is little or nothing for innocent webmasters who have lost rankings over some new technical policy or problem. We watch this forum and wait for hints or clue breadcrumbs from GG or Matt Cuts blog. It's sad really.

Should it matter? Well yes IMV - the internet is not just a playground anymore - it's part of the global economy and it does matter and will matter more and more. In the UK, internet sales are growing exponentially compared to the High Street which is shrinking. In five years time, try telling the Burton group or someone that they shouldn't cry because their website rankings plummeted due to canonical issues!

This is a free market, and everything has a price - in the end I think that website content too will have a price.

Miop




msg:1236445
 11:11 pm on Mar 23, 2006 (gmt 0)

PS - as a matter of interest, I've just checked out a few shopping giants in the UK.
Out of four sites, two of them, including one beginning Deb and another famous one beginning Har based in Knightsbridge, are all supplemental! The other two have about 20 results and several thousand 'similar pages' not showing.

Of course that is not a major worry to them at the moment while they have lots of real humans going through their doors, but it will be interesting to see what happens as the slowdown deepens. Interesting times!

gregbo




msg:1236446
 2:52 am on Mar 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

Ted pointed out that they have started emailing sites which are breaking the rules to warn them that they face a penalty if they don't clean up their act - that's a good thing of course, but there is little or nothing for innocent webmasters who have lost rankings over some new technical policy or problem. We watch this forum and wait for hints or clue breadcrumbs from GG or Matt Cuts blog. It's sad really.

How do you suppose G or any other SE should be compensated for informing a massive # of webmasters that their site has slipped on some ranking? For example, consider the set of queries that result in some site showing up in results. That set is not easily determinable for any, let alone all sites. In effect we have a combinatorial explosion -- a massive number of query/website pairs that need to be checked to determine if some site has fallen below some ranking threshold. What's more, suppose some sites actually move up in rankings for some queries, while they fall down for some other queries. What is the SE supposed to do then?

gregbo




msg:1236447
 2:59 am on Mar 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

My prediction is that the courts and/or legislatures cannot/will not demand that Google "give" everyone a decent ranking in the database, but instead, will eventually require that a mechanism be put into place whereby Google (and/or any other company in a clearly dominant position) will not be able to severely damage a business through a dramatic drop in position, without first giving fair & adequate notice, and the opportunity for the business to correct the situation. The courts/legislatures will set new precedent if there is no existing precedent, and that will be that.

Supposing such a law is put into effect. A new algo or index is put out, and many sites drop as a result. Notifications are sent to each webmaster, who presumably knows how to "fix" whatever was "wrong". But as a result of the fix, those same sites appear with the same ranking as with the previous algo or index. What then?

Reno




msg:1236448
 4:30 am on Mar 24, 2006 (gmt 0)

But as a result of the fix, those same sites appear with the same ranking as with the previous algo or index. What then?

The problems at some sites will be properly addressed and as a result many of them will subsequently not suffer a catastophic fall; the problems at other sites will be ignored and they will have no one to blame but themselves. Google will have done its part -- provided fair warning -- so it can do what it does best and not have to be distracted by unnecessary legal proceedings.

And again, as I've said before, this is not about going from page 2 to page 4; this is about going from page 2 to page 92, literally overnight. THAT is disastrous for any online business, so if that sort of ranking collapse can be avoided through the receipt of a reasonable warning by the dominant search services, then the resultant stability will almost certainly make for an overall healthier ecommerce environment.

..................................

gregbo




msg:1236449
 1:48 am on Mar 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

The problems at some sites will be properly addressed and as a result many of them will subsequently not suffer a catastophic fall; the problems at other sites will be ignored and they will have no one to blame but themselves. Google will have done its part -- provided fair warning -- so it can do what it does best and not have to be distracted by unnecessary legal proceedings.

What makes you think this problem won't be addressed at all sites that care about their rankings?

And again, as I've said before, this is not about going from page 2 to page 4; this is about going from page 2 to page 92, literally overnight. THAT is disastrous for any online business, so if that sort of ranking collapse can be avoided through the receipt of a reasonable warning by the dominant search services, then the resultant stability will almost certainly make for an overall healthier ecommerce environment.

Most people don't search past the second or third screen, and use the default 10 results per page, so they see somewhere between 20-30 (organic) search results. So there are 20-30 viable positions below which a site will consider itself "punished" due to a new index or algo. So what happens if after receiving a warning of "deranking", and "fixing" their sites, everyone's ranking stays the same?

Moreover, why don't webmasters consider any time they are spidered and/or a new index/algo is announced the "warning" that they need to carefully monitor their positions?

Web_speed




msg:1236450
 5:09 pm on Mar 25, 2006 (gmt 0)

In five years time, try telling the Burton group or someone that they shouldn't cry because their website rankings plummeted due to canonical issues!

Miop,

Just tell your clients what i tell mine, tell them that Google should not be relied upon and that it is mostly hype nowadays, no real substance. Tell them that this SE is broken and has been broken for almost a year now. Tell them that the ranking on the SERPs no longer make any sense because they skew the results on purpose to increase ad click revenue. It is hard to find anything useful as a result.

Then introduce them to Yahoo and MSN and get them to install the tool bars. End of story.

We webmasters gave Google the power and we webmasters can also take it away. If you are truly dissatisfied with Google and it's arrogance then start actively promoting the other alternatives to your clients, family and friends. Just as we did 3-4 years ago when Google was a raising star...

It is not like we have any other options, do we?!

Altair




msg:1236451
 10:21 pm on Mar 31, 2006 (gmt 0)

I agree that search engines should have to define the rules and specifically explain why a site has been banned entirely from the index. I don't think they necessarily need to explain why some site does not rank higher than some other site (an impossible requirement).

Also Kinderstart has a point about defamation. Search engines make statements to the effect that they never ban a site that hasn't done something deceptive but then refuse to say what, actually, the site did that was deceptive. That amounts to making a derogatory claim about somebody and then not being willing to back up the claim with evidence.

[edited by: jatar_k at 5:34 pm (utc) on April 1, 2006]

gregbo




msg:1236452
 6:43 am on Apr 3, 2006 (gmt 0)

I agree that search engines should have to define the rules and specifically explain why a site has been banned entirely from the index.

Why? Search engines are under no obligation to include or retain any sites in their indexes. SEs are competitive commercial businesses, not regulated public utilities. Furthermore, if any SE drops sites from its index for seemingly arbitrary reasons, this ought to be a sign that the SE is not reliable. The other SEs should act upon this immediately by reliably indexing these sites and playing up the fact that they do so in order to boost their usage.

WRT Kinderstart, I find it interesting that it's one of the SEs on the search drop-down menu on their front page. One would think they would not promote a company they have a grievance with to their users.

fischermx




msg:1236453
 10:26 pm on Apr 4, 2006 (gmt 0)


I find it interesting that it's one of the SEs on the search drop-down menu on their front page.

Interesting? What about using adsense on their internal pages! Now that's weirdo!

joeduck




msg:1236454
 10:58 pm on Apr 6, 2006 (gmt 0)

The other SEs should act upon this immediately by reliably indexing these sites

They often do, but people are slow to make the change. All the search engines are reeling from spam and Kinderstart is collateral damage. What confuses me is why Google has no good program to help sites like this.

gregbo




msg:1236455
 2:32 am on Apr 9, 2006 (gmt 0)

What confuses me is why Google has no good program to help sites like this.

It's not clear to me how, outside of paid inclusion (which Google won't do), Google would be able to help sites "regain" their page rank. This presumes that there is some "fixed" notion of what a page's rank should be; what position it should have for some given set of queries in their search results; some guarantee that Google should maintain this ranking despite other circumstances that they may not be able to control (e.g. temporary unreachability of Google's spiders to Kinderstart's site during a new index build). In fact, if they were to make such a guarantee outside of a contractual obligation, they could very well be accused of the very thing Kinderstart is claiming -- that they are manipulating rankings arbitrarily.

I'm sure that as part of index testing, Google submits a representative set of queries to its index to check rankings. It's not likely that there are (statistically) sufficient queries to find the "error" that caused the ranking drop. Also, you have to consider whether or not users are served by whatever results come up. As long as they find some useful sites for the queries that used to result in Kinderstart's site, you can't make an argument that users are hurt in a meaningful way. I'm not saying that Kinderstart shouldn't complain about a loss in ranking, but IMO they need to be more realistic about how ranking works.

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