Internet search giant Google is being sued by a parents’ portal, KinderStart.com, for effectively blacklisting the site. According to the suit filed by KinderStart.com, Google removed the site’s PageRank ranking, which is now at zero, effectively meaning that none of KinderStart.com’s pages have a chance of appearing within the top 10 search results on Google.
KinderStart.com is claiming that Google acted in an anticompetitive way and is misleading the general public by giving the impression that Google offers an objective way to find information on the Internet. KinderStart.com says that in reality Google is punishing websites for no apparent reason and offers no way for blacklisted sites to regain their PageRank, because Google does not provide any information on why a site was penalized. KinderStart.com is suing for unspecified damages (it alleged the PageRank drop last March resulted in a loss of up to 70% of the site’s traffic and 80% of its revenues) and hopes to turn the case into a class action suit.
So far, KinderStart.com has not received much industry support for its lawsuit. There are suggestions that KinderStart.com could have been violating Google’s webmaster guidelines (compliance to which are a condition of being listed in Google). In addition, Google seems to have a pretty good case in successfully claiming that its PageRank system is an expression of a professional opinion, similar to a financial credit rating, and thus protected by the First Amendment. At time of writing, no other firms have joined KinderStart.com’s class action, either.
While the case seems far-fetched, I think it would be very useful for webmasters to get some kind of feedback when Google dishes out penalties, even if only stating that a site has violated the Google webmaster guidelines, and offering review and re-inclusion once the violations have been rectified. At least this would give site owners the certainty that there is something that doesn’t adhere to Google guidelines and that they can fix to regain their old Google status. Google wouldn’t be giving any information away that could be abused by spammers, but would be giving all the legitimate websites with inadvertent problems a clear way of being readmitted into the Google fold.
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