It often seems that Google runs the world, but even a tech giant like Google can be tempered by the courts. A Florida judge recently ruled on a landmark case that ultimately went against Google and will have significant impacts on SEO conduct in the future. Here’s what you should know about this case and its influence on the Internet as we know it.
E-Ventures Worldwide LLC vs Google
E-ventures Worldwide LLC, a company that helps their clients make better decisions based on objective research and analysis, brought a lawsuit against Google in 2016 after alleging that Google inappropriately de-indexed hundreds of its websites without review or redress. According to Google, E-ventures Worldwide had purposefully engaged in search engine manipulation to rank higher in Google’s search results, which led Google to de-index the sites as a punishment. The lawsuit arose specifically because E-ventures Worldwide claimed that Google based its decision subjectively on an anonymous third party tip, rather than on algorithmic rules or webmaster guidelines.
Questioning Google’s Power
Google’s decision to de-index E-ventures Worldwide’s web pages has led to a looming question: can Google arbitrarily make decisions to control what enters the index and what does not? Furthermore, what qualifies as search engine manipulation? Google claims it is protected by the First Amendment and the Communications Decency Act (CDA), which asserts that search engines are not liable for content filtering decisions as long as they are made in good faith.
The Unprecedented Decision By Florida’s Judge
Hundreds of webmasters attempt to bring such lawsuits against Google every year, but most arguments are thin and quickly dismissed, so it is a rare occurrence that a judge denied Google’s 2016 motion to dismiss the case and instead sided with E-ventures Worldwide. According to the judge, Google failed to make its decision in good faith, since it based de-indexing on an unverified tip rather than editorial judgement or compliance with published guidelines.
When Google’s case went to full trial, the court determined that Google was protected by the First Amendment, and E-ventures Worldwide’s suit was ultimately dismissed. Despite Google’s victory, the ruling still influences SEO. Search engines are expected and required to demonstrate editorial restraint by holding to the “good faith” clause of the CDA. Though Google has the right to de-index sites it believes are spam, its methods must be more objective and based on verification rather than assumption.