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Google wins search rankings case

A lawsuit that accused Google of manipulating its page ranking system has been thrown out by a US court. It was filed by SearchKing, a web host and search engine, and argued that Google deliberately made changes to its PageRank system to remove SearchKing's web sites from top search rankings.03 Jun 2003

SearchKing is the Oklahoma City-based company behind a business called the PR Ad Network. "PR" stands for Page Rank, a reference to Google's system of ranking web pages. Google scores every web page that it indexes with a number between 1 and 10.

The higher the score, or PageRank, the more likely the page will appear at the top of a user's search results. Google users can access this PageRank information via a free download from Google.

The PR Ad Network sells advertising on third party web sites. It uses Google's PageRank information to gauge the value of any web site for its advertising clients and charges accordingly, in competition with Google's own advertising sales.

In its lawsuit filed in 2002, SearchKing alleged that Google changed the PageRank system's algorithms for calculating search results, in an attempt to devalue the company's PageRank score.

In November 2002, SearchKing's PageRank was restored, however the company decided to proceed with the lawsuit "as a matter of principle."

Last week the Western District Court of Oklahoma dismissed the case on the grounds that PageRank was an opinion, and therefore protected by the First Amendment.

The court took the view that the rankings created by PageRank were "fundamentally subjective in nature" and, according to court documents, "PageRanks are opinions - opinions of the significance of particular websites as they correspond to a search query".

Bob Massa, SearchKing's CEO, said of the after the ruling was announced, saying,

"This case was never about placement in search results or page rank. This case was about the attempt to restrict the legal business of another without due process. It was about the abuse of power. SearchKing never broke a law, yet was accused, judged and executed without so much as a notice of intent."

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