Website Seeks Class Action Against Google for Blacklisting

Google Inc. and Yahoo! maintain a lot of secrecy about how websites and web pages are ranked to produce search results. Google was named in a lawsuit accusing the online search engine leader of ruining scores of Internet businesses that have been wrongfully banished from its index.

The civil complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose by KinderStart.com, seeks to be certified as a class action representing the owners of all Web sites blacklisted by Google’s Internet-leading search engine since January 2001.

KinderStart, a Norwalk-based Web site devoted to information about children, says it was dropped from Google’s index a year ago without warning. Large changes in search results for many websites were seen from Yahoo and Google results last fall.

KinderStart claims that Google has engaged in anti-competitive behavior and misled the public by positioning its search engine as an objective source for finding Internet content. The suit seeks unspecified financial damages and a court order that would require Google to change its ways.

Google claims its system attempts to elevate the Web sites with content most relevant to a request. Since PageRank, Google’s ranking system can make or break websites, adminsitrators are upset over Google and Yahoo business practices. To make matters worse, some sites resort to dirty tricks (‘black hat techniques’) to try to fool Google into elevating their web links on search results. This makes it harder for search engine companies to manage legitimate website and web page results, and it sometime hurts the website with legitimate content.

Yahoo! and Google are known to eliminate websites or web pages from their indices, a process which is known as being sent to “the sandbox.”

KinderStart’s lawsuit alleges Google’s policing efforts have penalized Web sites that have done nothing wrong. It is even possible that some website owners use ‘Black Hat’ techniques to sabotage competitor websites —  again a situation where innocent websites are penalized by search engines. The lawsuit also alleges that the administrators of banished sites can’t determine how they can restore their standings because Google doesn’t explain its actions.

Google has previously defended its business practices. In 2003, Google persuaded a federal judge to dismiss a case filed by Oklahoma City-based Search King Inc. after its search ranking abruptly fell. Google argued its search ranking formula represented an opinion protected by the First Amendment, which U.S. District Judge Vicki Miles- LaGrange agreed.

KinderStart said its traffic plunged by 70 percent after Google dropped it. At its peak, KinderStart’s visitors viewed more than 10 million Web pages per month, according to the suit.

Kinderstart will argue that Google has become an “essential facility” that should be required to warn Web sites before dropping them from the index. Imagine that your electric company cut your power because you didn’t use electricity properly and then the power company refused to explain how to prevent the cutoff in the future.

Google maintains its secrecy is essential to its success.