Google counters search-fix lawsuit

The search giant moves to quash a suit filed by ad network company Search King that alleges Google manipulated query results.

Google has moved to quash a lawsuit that alleges the company manipulated search query results, according to a court filing.

The search leader has formally refuted a preliminary injunction request from Oklahoma City-based Search King, which operates an online advertising network. Search King filed a lawsuit against Google in late October, alleging it unfairly removed its Web addresses from top search rankings, causing financial losses.

In addition, Google has filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The complaint, filed in the U.S. Western District Court of Oklahoma, centered on Google's "PageRank" algorithm--one of the company's recipes for calculating search results. Search King sought a preliminary injunction against Google, one of the most popular sites in the world, asking to be restored to its previous ranking and to be awarded $75,000 in damages.

In a court document dated Dec. 30, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company refuted Search King's motion on the grounds that it "contains only bare and conclusory allegations."

"The PageRank that Google assigns to a Web page is simply Google's view or opinion of the importance of that Web page. Such views or opinions are protected by the First Amendment," according to the filing.

Google representatives declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Though Google has largely kept secret its formula for answering queries with quick, relevant results, it has publicized one big part of the process. PageRank is a factor that bases a site's importance in search results on the popularity the site has in the Web community. It roughly tabulates the number of links coming to that site and the importance of those pages linking to it. It boils that assessment down to a 1-to-10 ranking, to determine the site's position in specific results. Translated, a site with a PR 10 is favored in results over a site with PR 7.

Because Google is one of the largest search services on the Web, high ranking in its index could mean a site gets traffic from America Online, Yahoo and other licensing partners, as well from Google.com. With knowledge of how PageRank works, Web marketers and search engine spammers have tried to reverse-engineer the formula by creating elaborate link structures, or "link farms," to multiple sites to create page popularity and boost a PageRank ranking.

Search King had claimed that Google devalued its PageRank score, bumping it and its ad network out of listings. The Web hosting company operated an ad network that sold text links on popular Web sites to get them a better listing in Google results.

According to Google's filing, "Search King's sole complaint is that Google lowered its PageRank for pages on Search King's site. This action, however, was undertaken by Google because Search King had engaged in behavior that would lower the quality of Google's search results and that was designed to manipulate the integrity of those search results."

Late last year, Search King's top listing was restored on Google.

Bob Massa, Search King's owner, said that although his company's ranking came back late last year, he decided to continue pursuing the suit on principle.

"They arbitrarily singled us out. They make up rules, and they decide you're a spammer, and boom! you're gone. There's no recourse. Search engines have to be held accountable."

Google asked the court to deny Search King's motion for preliminary injunction without the necessity of setting a hearing on the motion.

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