Google is being sued by a man represented by a law firm that has successfully sued Google several times in the past. The firm is Kabateck Brown Kellner and the man is David Almeida, a local businessman from Massachusetts who claims that Google’s sign up process for AdWords wrongly conceals that advertiser text ads will run on AdSense content partner sites unless they affirmatively opt out.
Here’s a relevant factual passage from the complaint:
This action arises from the fact that Google does not inform its advertisers that if they leave the content bid CPC input blank, Google will use the advertiser’s CPC bid for clicks occurring on the content network. Google does this despite the fact that ads placed on the content network are demonstrably inferior to ads appearing on search result pages. Because there is no option to opt out of content ads during the AdWords registgration [sic] process, advertisers reasonably believe that by leaving the content ad CPC input blank they can opt out of having their ads placed on the content network. Google, however, has charged and continues to charge those advertisers who leave content ad CPC input blank for content ads on third party websites.
The suit states three claims: unjust enrichment, fraudulent concealment, and unfair or deceptive business practices under the California Business and Professions Code. The lawsuit also announces itself as a class action. If this were only about an individual plaintiff, assuming he could win on liability, damages would simply be the value of clicks on the content network refunded. But a class action represents millions of potential dollars for the opportunistic law firm.
I would doubt that there can be any finding of fraud against Google but the other claims might be more viable. Opting out of AdSense is a fairly straightforward process after account setup. Still, the case can probably escape a motion to dismiss by Google and will likely go into the discovery phase.
Many auto insurance companies, feeling like personal injury lawyers were seeing them as easy targets, started to take a harder line and ligate cases rather than settle them out of the gate. This case might wind up settling but Google has incentives to fight these cases more vigorously and “send a message” to law firms who may see the search engine as a deep pocket and an easy target.