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Suing Google Over Pagerank 427

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the this-can't-be-the-first-time dept.
Yardboy wrote in to tell us about a story from Reuters describing a lawsuit by parental advice company Kinderstart.com against Google for 'charging it unfairly deprived the company of customers by downgrading its search-result ranking without reason or warning.' Kinderssart claims Google is responsible for 'a "cataclysmic" 70 percent fall in its audience -- and a resulting 80 percent decline in revenue.' I guess the courts will now decide: Can google taketh what they giveth?
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Suing Google Over Pagerank

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  • by NeonRonin (763614) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:26AM (#14951956)
    Kinderstart, realizing their website sucks, announces a lawsuit against Google for a detrimental impact to their website traffic. Website activity jumps 3000% on the news, mainly from a nerd news site reporting the lawsuit. Slashdot is credited with a 120% increase in revenue for nerds that now know how to raise their kids.
  • sorry (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Can google taketh what they giveth?

    Sorry, but that's just wrong. I know you're trying to sound cute and all, but even Shakespeare would say "Can google take what they give?"
  • it's... (Score:2, Funny)

    by davids_xls (888798)
    those pigeons, sue them!!!
  • So which is it... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by $1uck (710826) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:29AM (#14951966)
    From TFA:
    "aggressively defends the secrecy of its patented search ranking system"
    Is it patented or secret? I mean it can't be both.
    • Re:So which is it... (Score:5, Informative)

      by sydneyfong (410107) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:53AM (#14952066) Homepage Journal
      It's likely that the patent covers the general pagerank algorithm (or even just the idea of ranking sites based on how many other sites link to them, and their respective ranks, etc), without the actual parameters or tweaks (eg. if you have been linked from warez sites you take a penalty). It's very likely that Google tweaks the ranking system from time to time, or even rewrites the code for it (who knows? ;-) and those tweaks won't show up in the (original) pagerank patent.

      Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer.
    • Depends on how you interpret it. Google started as an academic publication [stanford.edu], which is public. The system has certainly grown and changed since then, and improved, and much of that is secret. However, some generalizations of what they do, and particular pieces are patented [com.com]. I believe this statement is saying that the general system is patented, but many of the scoring details, which is what's relevant in the case, are secret. So... yes, it can be both - you don't have to patent full systems and every de
    • A little of both (Score:5, Informative)

      by jfengel (409917) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:10AM (#14952125) Homepage Journal
      The PageRank algorithm is patented (patent 6,285,999 [uspto.gov]) and public.

      But Google's results are much more than page rank. It also involves other algorithms relating to the search keys for a particular search. And there are tuning factors to the particular PageRank implementation. Google's proprietary tweaks keep ahead of the people who try to artificially inflate their page rank (like, apparently, these guys). Those are secret, and search engine optimizers would dearly love to know them so that they could fake out Google.
    • PageRank (Score:3, Informative)

      by deblau (68023)
      Read U.S. Pat. No. 6,526,440 [uspto.gov]. Seriously, it's quite informative.
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:30AM (#14951969) Homepage Journal
    They have been astroturfing all over the place and I don't see any actual content pages.

    They advertise themselves as a search engine.
    Google still indexes over 25000 pages by them, and from my initial examination, theres no content.
    They appear to be just a linkfarm

    Google aren't wrong, this kind of thing is what we have been asking them to do for ages (clear out the crap)
  • by dteichman2 (841599) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:30AM (#14951970) Homepage
    Google is a private company with a private database. They have no obligation to rank any site equally, or even at all! In fact, Google could arbitrarily decide that some company was "bad" and simply remove them from their database. Kinderstart has no case, not even with their fractured English. Google is a corporation, not a public service, even though they seem like it on occasion.
    • Google is a private company with a private database. They have no obligation to rank any site equally, or even at all! In fact, Google could arbitrarily decide that some company was "bad" and simply remove them from their database. Kinderstart has no case, not even with their fractured English. Google is a corporation, not a public service, even though they seem like it on occasion.

      I agree. If the courts say there must be a "fair" system to decide pagerank, then who decides? Do we want Google and Yahoo to

    • I agree with everything you say except this: Google is a private company...

      It's not a private company. It's a publicly traded company that now has to answer to its shareholders. Never underestimate shareholders' ability to steer a company completely down the wrong path for a quick buck.

    • Google is, as has already been mentioned, a public company. It does have certain fiduciary responsibilities to its shareholders, so the management can't for example, decide to shut down operations, abscond with the profits, and move to the Bahamas.

      Beyond that, though, any company still has to operate within the law. Just ask Microsoft, which is grappling with EU law and has fought the US Justice Department and various US states over the years. Virtually any large company you can think of has been sued for

  • Why? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Parham (892904) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:31AM (#14951975)
    Why does this website think it can sue a company for a service it is providing them for free?

    Furthermore, pagerank is explained here [iprcom.com] and here [google.com]. Finally, if 70% of their audience and 80% of their revenue SOLELY relies on Google, then they need to change the way they advertise their site and profit from it. Looking at their site, they look just like a plain directory of links; they probably make money from advertising.
    • They charge $5/month to have your site listed on their website...

      Sounds like pre-dotcom-bubble-bursting business model is showing its age. And they want to hit the biggest pocket first.

      Frankly the site isn't all that - I don't think I agree with their rankings or content. If pagerank decided that they're not worthy of the rating, so be it...

      I hate to mention it - but there is >some truth to search engine optimization methods, however from the details of the story - it sounds like Kinderstart's executives
  • My take on this (Score:2, Insightful)

    by wass (72082)
    So a company that is too lazy or cheap to advertise itself decides to entirely depend on Google to do the hard work for them. And thus claim Google, who never earned a single cent from them, are responsible for their own failure to invest in advertising. What a joke.

    And their argument is pretty damn lame, saying Google is "depriving their customers". Well, their customers already know about their company, and thus should easily be able to find them again. It would be potential customers that might los

  • by pariahdecss (534450) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:33AM (#14951982)
    They have since cleaned up their site . . . but they were using every type of outmoded, pseudo seo hacks - alt tag spamming, invisible #FFFFFF links at the bottom of their pages pointing to keyword spam duplicate pages ad nauseum

    So don't whine if you get back slapped
  • by hunterx11 (778171) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (11xretnuh)> on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:36AM (#14951994) Homepage Journal
    If this lawsuit fails, they plan to sue everyone who isn't one of their customers for depriving them of revenue.
  • Are they going to sue me because I dont visit their website and look at their pages? I sense a bit of corporate "waaaaaaaaa" going on here.
    • Re:Whats next? (Score:2, Interesting)

      by LiquidCoooled (634315)
      Priceless quote from their press releases [kinderstart.com] (this one is quite old, 2001 infact)

      So, you see, all dot coms are not dot bombs!

      Well, I think their time has come.

      Tick, Tock. Tick, Tock.

      Incidentally, even archive.org has stopped wasting space on them (last index march 2005)
  • traffic (Score:3, Informative)

    by mrowton (828923) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:39AM (#14952005) Homepage
    you can see how their traffic started falling here [alexa.com]
    • Re:traffic (Score:2, Insightful)

      by fastgood (714723)
      you can see how their traffic started falling here [Alexa]

      Advertising-101 will tell you that heavy promotion merely compresses the timeframe for adoption and repeat business.
      If the product stinks, it will flame out in under a year rather than die a slow product cycle death. They lost core visitors here.

  • whinny babies (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mrshowtime (562809) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:48AM (#14952047)
    I don't see the problem. Kinderstart.com still is number four on search results from google and the first three are offshoots of the parent company. Wahhhhhhh! It's like blaming the phone book for a loss in sales because you were too cheap to take out a full page ad, or the newspaper for not hosting a daily column about your business.
  • by Mister Transistor (259842) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @10:52AM (#14952058) Journal
    IIRC It was already upheld in a court that search results and rankings were officially considered "opinion", and as such was constitutionally-protected free speech.

    If my opinion is that your site sucks, you can't sue me for that.
  • Isnt it their page? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:03AM (#14952102) Homepage

    Why are they going after google? This seems more like the web designers fault, and not google's problem.

    Being as vague as possible, I once did some work for a company who loved the results I was getting them in their page ranking. Then, one of the 'managers' came up and said that one person was complaining about the design of the site. I tried for a week to explain that any changes would result in a drastic drop in our page rank. I've actually studied the google patent filing, and was able to learn some important details that were used in the site constructively to help the ranking.

    Since it wasnt my company, all I could do was explain what I thought the results of this decision would be. I ended up 'changing' the page layout to satisfy the clueless management, onlt to see a 15% drop in traffic and a fall from 6/10 to 4/10 in page ranking on google. Did I try to say it was google's fault? Hell no! I knew exactly where the blame was to be placed, and I vocally explained what was going on, why it was going on, and whos decision it was to make this change.

    Suprisingly, they no longer question my ability to do my job. And that was shortly followed by a raise after I pointed out that I was very disapointed that I had to associate my name with such crappy performance, that was a result of poor decisions I warned against. And yes, it is VERY difficult to regain page ranking. But not impossible, unless of course your page uses every nasty trick in the book for optimization.

    But the part about this company filing a lawsuit against google based on free speech? Is that a joke? It sounds like the lawyers this company hired are about as incompetent as their web designers.

  • by noidentity (188756) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:05AM (#14952106)
    Let me get this straight...

    1) Private company freely provides service
    2) It is found useful by individuals and companies for finding one another
    3) Its use becomes wide-spread and significant in the success of companies (maybe)
    4) One particular company sues provider of this free service for not catering to them

    Not that this is the first one to bite the hand that feeds.
  • by babbling (952366) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:08AM (#14952118)
    I'm suing Kinderstart for not linking to me.
  • by IamGarageGuy 2 (687655) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:15AM (#14952149) Journal
    The way I see it, Google has not held up their end of this mysterious aggreement between the two parties. I think the two companies should just part ways. They are to have no associations with each other that would facillitate other disaggreements. To this end, Kinderstart should not have any links or mention of Google on their site and vice-versa.
  • Shoot Your Lawyer (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Detritus (11846) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:25AM (#14952191) Homepage
    Your "constitutional right to free speech" is a restriction on the actions of the federal government, and through incorporation [wikipedia.org], the states. It does not require any private entity to provide you a forum, listen to you, or to treat you fairly, whatever you think that might mean.
    • by sicktime (962187)
      Absolutely, Google cannot possibly violate their right to free speech even if they tried! They winge about their business being affected, then they should spend a bit more on Google AdWords! This is ridiculous and a waste of valuable court time. Google are under no obligation to list them at all, let alone to list them at the top. Businesses who rely solely on high Google rankings are on dodgy ground and they have learnt that the hard way. Ian (J.D.)
  • I guess the next natural step is to throw a crappy website together and then sue kinderstart.com for failing to link to it. In the unlikely event that they DO link to it, I'll just sue them for my 'losses' due to them losing 70% of their traffic (and so reducing the visibility of their link to my crappy content free site).

    Or we could all just grow up and realize that nobody, including a search engine, is legally obligated to 'recommend' (however mildly) any other site unless a private contract is in place

  • by NightHwk1 (172799) <jon&emptyflask,net> on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:31AM (#14952222) Homepage
    It's nothing but another one of those "web directory" sites, full of links to other sites that were likely conned into paying KinderStart for the listing.

    The site looks like the last time it was updated was 2000, the year on their site copyright. Most of the links don't even work.

    I've built sites for these types of companies (back when I was starting out). Its probably just one or two people working out of their garage, fully expecting that the 10,000 domain names they purchased entitle them to millions of dollars. Quite sad, really.

    Google has no obligation to pay their rent, and the Internet has no use for this trash. Get a real fucking job.
    • by YoYoY (899475)

      Funnily enough http://www.kinderstart.co.uk/ [kinderstart.co.uk]seems to be a valid site promoting a chain of nursery schools in the UK. It comes at the very top of google.co.uk's list when you search for "kinderstart". Google just seem to have downranked the US site because it's a junk link, providing no-one with any useful information, which is exactly what they should have done! Hope the suit gets thrown out and the judge orders them to pay Google's costs.

  • by dpbsmith (263124) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @11:42AM (#14952273) Homepage
    Yale is suing U. S. News and World Report for unfairly depriving the university of applicants by downgrading its overall ranking to #3, having formerly ranked it as tied with Harvard for #1, without reason or warning...

    Pluto is suing the Rose Center for Earth and Space in New York City for depriving it of attention by school children by downgrading its status from "planet" to "biggest object in the Kuiper belt," without reason or warning...

    and Texas is suing Alaska for unfairly depriving it of bragging rights by downgrading its rank among states listed by area, without reason or warning.

  • Since this site is just another one of those spammy links sites; will their customers (advertisers) now sue kinderstart.com? It seems that they have justified that sort of suit by their suit against google.
  • by siwelwerd (869956) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @12:23PM (#14952435)
    I'm suing the moderators for depriving me of my right to free speech by not modding this comment up, without reason or warning!
  • If you rely only on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) focused mainly on one search engine then you are putting all your eggs in one basket. If you contact webmasters with similar sites and exchange hard links then both of you will get regular steady traffic to the benefit of both. Hard links between similar friendly sites has been the way to do it for ages and still will be in the future. You see, search engine traffic is there one day and gone tomorrow. Then you get nothing for a month and suddenly your ser
  • Mod Me Up! (Score:4, Funny)

    by Comatose51 (687974) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @12:48PM (#14952534) Homepage
    Didn't RTFA, and this is probably redundant and trolling, but you best mod me up or I'll sue!
  • Publicity stunt (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wile_e_wonka (934864) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @01:31PM (#14952694)
    I think the forum has made it clear that Google, as a private company (though "publicly traded") has no obligations to Kinderstart under the First Amendment, so their lawsuit is bunk. BUT Kinderstart did a good think for their business by suing Google. How many people here after looking at this article looked at Kindercrap.com too see what it is? Would any of us have gone there otherwise? So the lawsuit is going to easily die very quickly, but suing Google gets you on the front page of the news! It even got the company some free advertising here on Slashdot of all places!
  • First Amendment? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Matilda the Hun (861460) <flatsymcnoboobs <at> leekspin <dot> com> on Sunday March 19, 2006 @03:07PM (#14953059) Homepage
    The complaint accuses Google, as the dominant provider of Web searches, of violating KinderStart's constitutional right to free speech by blocking search engine results showing Web site content and other communications.

    They have the right to free speech. But here's the thing: Google is not a public forum. Google, as a seperate company, has every right to decide what they do and do not display on their webpage. Kinderstart has every right to go elsewhere and advertise their site. But last time I checked, regulating what privately-owned web pages display don't fall under the first amendment. Otherwise, you'd see a lawsuit every time a post gets deleted on (insert random popular web forum here) for breaking whatever that site's ToS is.

    But, of course, it makes for better FUD when you slap a "You broke the first amendment!" sticker on companies.

    On the plus side, at least Google's lawyers are getting a workout. Between the whole DoJ thing [slashdot.org], the FTC's demand for emails [slashdot.org], and that stupid Usenet lawsuit [slashdot.org], they're definately earning their pay.
  • Boo Hoo! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SeaFox (739806) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @04:28PM (#14953392)
    KinderStart charges that Google without warning in March 2005 penalized the site in its search rankings, sparking a "cataclysmic" 70 percent fall in its audience -- and a resulting 80 percent decline in revenue.

    Do they have any actual evidence Google maliciously lowered the site's listing in search results?

    Google is not necessarily directly responsible for every downgrade of a Pagerank. The system is supposed to work based on how many people choose to link to a site. Therefore, falling Pagerank is simply a symptom of falling site popularity, although this would be a circular effect (the lower you are in the results display the fewer people will click you anyway). But that's not Google's fault. It's simply that most consumers are too lazy to read all results throughly before clicking one.

    Given that it's just an advertising trap, the problem could be that (gasp!) consumers have figured out this site simply has no real information, and it's falling in popularity becuase there aren't as many suckers to reel in at this point. In other words, the whole site's business model has gone through it's half-life, they're on the downward slope of their cash-cow.

    "Google does not generally inform Web sites that they have been penalized nor does it explain in detail why the Web site was penalized," the lawsuit said.

    So?
    Who said they have to?
    Google's not a public utility or branch of the government last time I checked. If you don't like where you fall in search results, market yourself, improve your site, or go home crying to mommy.

    The suit was filed the same day a federal judge denied a U.S. government request that Google be ordered to hand over a sample of keywords customers use to search the Internet while requiring the company to produce some Web addresses indexed in its system.

    I don't see any relation between these two events. But if the editor wanted a couple more inches of article...

    Interesting side note: When I worked in dial-up tech support I got a call from a customer who had a page up in their personal webspace. The page was about childhood abuse (or maybe eduaction, I can't remember) anyway. This person was an author of a couple books and her site was in the top ten results for this topic on Google for awhile. It had recently fallen to the second page I believe. They were calling us because they somehow thought we were responsible and wanted us to put the customers page back up to the third result when searching Google for the topic of the customer's expertise. Also, the site was not coming up when clicking the page link in Google.

    The reason the site didn't come up anymore was the customer had their page up on a personal webspace (so the URL was htt p://home.isp.com/~username) but the customer had set up the page before her ISP had been bought out by us. So the google search result had the old ISP's domain (and we'd stopped forwarding from that domain to ours after a few years). I had to talk with them for a very long time about how the order of results are decided on Google (even showing them the "miserable failure" googlebomb to illustrate how results can be tampered with). My recommndations in the end were to get a proper domain name for their site and try to contact google to get the exiting result's URL corrected.

    If Google made it a little more clear about how Pagerank works (without disclosing all their proprietary info, just a survey of information) to the public lawsuits like this wouldn't be possible, and they would get less hatemail from political parties/celebrities taking things personally.
  • by Chris Snook (872473) on Sunday March 19, 2006 @06:20PM (#14953850)
    http://www.kinderstart.com:8080/kindertoday/addPos tingForm [kinderstart.com]

    I'm submitting this story:

    http://news.com.com/2100-1032_3-1011740.html [com.com]

    Thanks AKAImBatman!
  • by tod_miller (792541) on Monday March 20, 2006 @07:36AM (#14955962) Journal
    Page rank is a distillation through technology of how the designers believe attributes are important.

    It is their opinion, expressed in code.

    If I do not like the food at a restaurant, can they sue me?

    If I do not like Nike trainers (sneakers) can they sue me?

    If I am allergic to nuts, can some nut sue me?

    Failing that, google can google the judge and jury, find all their dirt, and black-mail them

    mauhahahahahahahahahah on an evil scale that rates less than loosing the case, so it is ok.

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