Class Action Suit Filed Against Yahoo Over “Defective” Search Ad Platform

Lerach Coughlin, a law firm with a reputation for going after companies who have allegedly engaged in financial shenanigans, has filed a class action lawsuit against Yahoo, charging "Yahoo and certain of its officers and directors with violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934."

Essentially, the suit claims that Yahoo’s search advertising technology was "operationally defective" and that Yahoo officials misled both advertisers and investors about the company’s advertising capabilities, especially when compared with competitors.

More on the lawsuit in this Business Wire press release or the release on the lawsuit site here. The complaint is here (PDF format).

Postscript From Danny:

From the release, I can’t help but comment on this part:

However, concealed from investors was the fact that due to operational deficiencies in its ad technology, Yahoo! was rapidly losing market share to Google and other search engines and Web destinations that would significantly undermine its revenues, earnings and value.

Let’s be clear. Yahoo’s alleged drop in market share has nothing to do with the status of its ad platform. If that were the case — if how well ads are targeted had an impact on consumer-traffic — arguably Microsoft should be stomping all over Google and Yahoo. It is not.

Many advertisers feel that Microsoft has the most sophisticated ad platform of the big three. However, I’ve long written it has lacked that one key feature that the engineers can’t build in, consumer traffic. If no one is searching, then you can’t show them ads and make money from them.

In contrast, until recently, Yahoo was widely viewed as having the most outdated ad technology. Nevertheless, it has remained a top choice by advertisers because Yahoo has largely maintained search traffic. Search traffic stats can ne and are debated, however, this recent review from us shows Yahoo has largely held its own over the past year.

Among the key points listed as reasons for the action:

  • (a) Yahoo! generated fraudulent revenue by deliberately misleading Internet advertising business customers to induce these customers to buy Yahoo! advertising products through deceptive means
  • (b) Yahoo! made false, misleading, and deceptive representations regarding its advertising technology and products to investors and potential investors, industry analysts, and customers to increase sales and stock prices
  • (c) Yahoo!’s false, deceptive, and misleading representations were material in that they had a natural tendency to influence, or were capable of influencing, purchasing decisions, and they related to the essential characteristics, quality, and/or nature of competing products and commercial activities, including relevance, potential click-throughs and quality
  • (d) Yahoo!’s advertising technology was operationally defective, causing its own advertising offerings to substantially under-perform those of its rivals
  • (e) whereas Yahoo!’s rivals were paying high-traffic vendors to route traffic through their Web sites, Yahoo! was charging large vendors for access and was dependent on that revenue to make its revenue targets, making Yahoo!’s Web site a less desirable location for vendors to drive traffic to
  • (f) Yahoo! was losing market share to Google and other Internet search providers.

I haven’t yet gone through the 54 page complaint to see the evidence listed to back some of these other claims up. Certainly Yahoo has made positive statements that it expect the new ad system to generate more revenues, yet the most recent quarter’s earnings were disappointing to some analysts.

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Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Legal: General | Yahoo: Business Issues | Yahoo: Legal | Yahoo: Search Ads


About The Author: (@CJSherman) is a Founding Editor of and President of Searchwise LLC, a Boulder Colorado based Web consulting firm. He also programs and co-chairs the Search Marketing Expo - SMX conference series.

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  • Michael @

    I can’t comment on the revenue numbers or the questions with the security exchange, but as a search marketing advertiser who was heavily involved in the Business Week cover story on click fraud with Yahoo/Google last year (with, I can say there were definitely more concerns with Yahoo regarding their partner network and the distribution of their search ads. Unlike Google, Yahoo did not allow (and still doesn’t as far as I can tell) an advertiser to opt out out of their “partners” in the search network, which were often of a dubious nature.

    As the BW article detailed, many of these sites were traced back to companies with offshore bank accounts and illicit systems to generate false clicks, bleeding away advertisers budgets, most unaware of what was really going on. I believe other advertisers started to catch on and pull back their spend in certain key finance verticals which may have accounted for them missing their revenue targets.

    Whether someone can be sued for losing market share is another question, but it is clear Yahoo needs to clean up their systems and allow more control and transparency to the process. With Google, you can select to only appear on Google, Google plus their search partners, Google + Content Network (at separate bid price) and it appears they are offering more targeting options everyday. Advertisers need to understand exactly what they are buying and where their ads are appearing, both for quality control/performance and also for liability issues. Major companies have gotten in trouble lately for their ads appearing in places like spyware pop-ups and junk sites which hurts their brand image and opens them up to lawsuits.

    Yahoo has many wonderful properties and innovative features, but they need to clean up their backend and focus on their core products if they are going to survive against Google. Panama is a good start but I think they need to do much more.

    Michael @

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