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Google response to search-fixing lawsuit attacked

Google recently asked a US court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by web host and search engine SearchKing, claiming that Google deliberately made changes to its PageRank system to remove the SearchKing's web sites from top search rankings, leading to financial loss; but SearchKing's boss has hit back at Google this week.15 Jan 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 retaliation, Google denied any wrongdoing and asked the court to dismiss SearchKing's lawsuit, arguing that it only contains "bare and conclusory allegations", and that it fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted."

Google also claims that the PageRank it assigns to web pages is "simply Google's view or opinion" of the importance of the sites, and that such views and opinions are protected constitutional provisions regarding free speech.

Finally, Google admits lowering its PageRank for SearchKing's sites, however it claims that this action was taken because SearchKing had engaged in behaviour that "would lower the quality of Google's search results", and was "designed to manipulate the integrity" of these results.

In an interview this week, SearchKing and PR Ad Network President Robert Massa has rejected Google's arguments. He told that the real issue in the dispute is not Google's page rankings, but accountability:

"On their Web site they say that PageRank is a mathematical algorithm. Now they say that it is free speech. This changes everything. I just want them to rank my page like they rank everyone else ... and if it's a matter of opinion, they should have a disclaimer saying so."

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

Google's filing is available from:

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