Is Google trying to outlaw SEO?

Google is at it again. There is nothing new about tech companies being involved in perpetual legal disputes, but its current engagement is somewhat more interesting.

Google is now involved in a dispute with a company called e-ventures LLC.  And in case you’re wondering who e-ventures are, here is what they say:

“e-ventures Worldwide, LLC is the leading provider of professional reviews and ratings identifying the best products and services in an ever-expanding collection of verticals. We achieve this through a proprietary approach to analysis and evaluation developed by industry analysis and research professionals. We continue to expand and improve our metrics based on the latest research and innovations crafted by competing vendors.”

I’m not really sure what all that means, but it sounds great. Either way, there is a case making its way through Florida District Court that seems to be going unnoticed. Personally, I’m surprised the SEO community haven’t made more of it, and I haven’t seen it posted on many of the major SEO forums. Not only that, it is a first of its kind and the outcome could determine how the SEO community views its work, or more importantly, how Google views it and what powers it has.

Essentially e-ventures has challenged whether Google has the right to exclude listings from its search engine, and logically you’d think yes. Why wouldn’t or shouldn’t Google have control over its own results, after all, it is our choice to use their free search engine. The problem is things get a little grey when you’re a dominant and influential global player; all of a sudden you have a public duty. In response, Google claimed First Amendment rights which basically state that it is their right to free speech, that enables them to do what they want with their index.

But the judge threw it out.

e-ventures LLC believes it had all of its websites and search results de-indexed by Google unfairly and in an anti-competitive spirit, with new websites immediately removed to protect its paid search business. The theory is that, the more effective the SEO advice, the less likely a business will have to pay for advertising via Google’s advertising networks. e-ventures argue that because of this, Google has taken an anti-competitive stance to SEO by eliminating e-ventures’ websites from Google’s search.  E-ventures claim that by removing these websites it is breaching its own removal policies by targeting e-ventures specifically and removing affiliated sites without sufficient evidence that the sites in question had actually breached Google’s website policies.

Google remained steadfast in its conviction by stating First Amendment rights and fought on. Google still believes that it is free to edit the index in any way it likes.

The only problem is that the index is not ‘speech’, so the judge dismissed the premise of the defense; we know that it is an algorithmically produced set of website links – a database. In order for this to have worked, there would have to be a need for editorial judgement, instead of anti-competitive motives, as e-ventures claim. Google continued to wrangle on by citing a number of different laws and protections but the judge sided with the plaintiff at nearly every turn.

It seems that Google’s defense for seemingly arbitrarily removing websites (and not in good faith) at whim is failing. If the First Amendment cannot get the case thrown out, then perhaps there’s hope.

Google has since restored all of the websites, but the case continues. You can read more about the case here.


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