The War On Links

shutterstock_104739881-fear-of-links In case you didn't notice, we are waging a war over links. Some would say that SEOs are at war with search engines, but I disagree. Search engines and SEOs have a symbiotic relationship; and without meaning to, we've killed the value of the link. The link, once a simple connector from one site to another, has become the subject of intense scrutiny by SEOs, Google, and even the US Copyright Office.  Do you remember what it was like to really "surf" the Internet? The way you could bounce from site to site simply by following blogrolls and webrings? The rush of energy and excitement that [...]

US Court Says Baidu Has Free Speech Right To Censor Search

baidu-600 Late last week, Chinese search engine Baidu succeeded in gaining dismissal of a lawsuit by pro-democracy activists based in New York (Zhang et al. v., Inc). Plaintiffs had sued in the US and argued that Baidu improperly blocked them from seeing content on the search engine. Specifically, according to Reuters, the plaintiffs said that people in the US couldn't access content (including their work) advocating greater openness and democracy in China. Among other remedies, they were seeking $16 million in damages. Ironically, the US District Court judge said that Baidu's right [...]

VA Court Delivers Blow To Yelp, Free Speech Of Users

Yelp logo A Virginia state court of appeal has ruled that Yelp must disclose the real identities of seven individuals who posted anonymous, critical reviews of an Alexandria, Virginia carpet cleaning business, Hadeed Carpet. Yelp and free speech advocacy groups have decried the decision. Hadeed said that he didn't believe that any of the reviews came from actual customers and sued to get Yelp to reveal the identities of the individuals in question. Yelp refused and the court granted Hadeed's lawyer's motion to compel. Yelp appealed and the appellate court affirmed the lower court's ruling (full o [...]

Yahoo-Microsoft Search Tensions On Public Display In Court Ruling

Microsoft has essentially had to sue Yahoo to get the company to fully comply with the terms of their 2010 "Search Alliance" agreement. Yahoo under Marissa Mayer had sought to delay rollouts of Bing search results in Taiwan and Hong Kong, awaiting a new Microsoft CEO. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer resigned ahead of schedule under board pressure because of a growing sense that Microsoft's core businesses were increasingly under siege and the company wasn't making sufficient headway. Former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop is arguably the leading candidate to succeed Ballmer. Regarding the Bing rollou [...]

SEO Companies Fined Over Fake Reviews

reviews-240px Several SEO companies have agreed to stop publishing fake online reviews, and will also pay penalties ranging from $2,500 to almost $100,000 as part of settlement announced today with the New York attorney general's office. The AG's year-long investigation ultimately caught 19 companies involved in writing and posting fake online reviews, including numerous small businesses. But the investigation began when the AG's office posed as a yogurt shop and contacted SEO companies asking for help in fighting negative reviews. The investigation revealed that SEO companies were using advanced IP spo [...]

Suing Your SEO: Can An Agency Be Held Liable For Poor Results?

Legal [caption id="attachment_168378" align="alignright" width="239"] Image via Shutterstock[/caption] It was only a matter of time before a lawsuit was filed against a search engine optimization agency for failing to deliver. Last week, the legal marketing industry was aTwitter (and aFacebook and even aPlus) with news that law firm Seikaly & Stewart had filed a lawsuit against The Rainmaker Institute seeking a return of their $49,000 in SEO fees and punitive damages under civil RICO (read: mobsters and racketeering -- more on that later). To the best of my knowledge, this is the larges [...]

German Court Says Google Must Block Libelous Words Added Via Autocomplete Function

Google Germany In a surprising turn of events, Germany's top civil court overturned two lower court rulings on a case involving Google's autocomplete function. According to the ruling, it is Google's responsibility to block libelous words that appear next to a name via the autocomplete function if Google has been alerted to the defamatory words. The plaintiff in the case was an unidentified nutritional supplements company that filed the lawsuit against Google because the German-language site's autocomplete function was adding the terms "Scientology" and "fraud" to the company's name in search queries. The [...]

Curtain Rises On Act 3 Of Google Antitrust Drama As Larry Page Meets With FTC

Google CEO Larry Page met with representatives of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) yesterday, according to a Bloomberg report, as the company engages in antitrust-settlement talks to avert potential litigation. The article also says that formal settlement discussions have been going on for about a week. The Bloomberg piece also reports that the FTC "has told Google it won’t accept a resolution short of a consent decree." However Google doesn't want this outcome apparently because of the ongoing enforcement authority it would grant the agency. Neither Google nor the FTC truly want [...]

Report: FTC Likely To Abandon “Vertical Search” Antitrust Claims Against Google

google-ftc-featured There are now enough indications to suggest that any antitrust settlement between the FTC and Google -- and the FTC would much prefer to settle than test its case  in court -- won't involve "vertical search." An earlier Reuters report, probably resulting from an internal FTC leak, suggested that vertical search wasn't the core of the agency's case against Google. Today Bloomberg is reporting that the FTC is "wavering" on whether to pursue a formal action against Google. In particular the agency's own people (anonymous sources) suggest they can't make the "vertical search bias" claim stick [...]

After Sting Operation, Yelp Outs 8 Businesses That It Caught Trying To Buy Reviews

yelp-logo-featured Yelp is now showing "Consumer Alert" warning messages on the profile pages of eight businesses that it says it caught in a sting operation trying to buy reviews. As the New York Times reports, Yelp conducted a sting operation in which one of its employees pretended to be an "Elite" reviewer and responded to review solicitations on Craigslist. As the article explains: A pest control company offered $5 to anyone who would post a review that the business itself had written. The moving company was willing to pay $50 but wanted original copy. An appliance repair shop provided a start: "I really [...]

DecorMyEyes Merchant Vitaly Borker Sentenced To Four Years In Federal Prison

Borker The New York Times reports Vitaly Borker, the merchant who boasted of being abusive to customers and claimed, inaccurately, that such behavior had a side benefit of producing good rankings in Google, has been sentenced. The sentencing was to four years in federal prison and ordered to pay approximately $100,000 in restitution and fines. Vitaly Borker who was arrested shortly after boasting in a New York Times article about how abusing customers improves Google rankings, pleaded guilty about 16 months ago. Yesterday, he was finally sentenced and had the opportunity to apologize to his victim [...]

US Subpoenas Apple For Details About Default iOS Google Search Deal

The US FTC has subpoenaed Apple to provide documentation and information about Google's presence on iOS as the default search engine. According to Bloomberg the FTC is also seeking similar information from handset makers and carriers. This arises in the context of the US government's broad anti-trust investigation of Google. These "default search" deals are common and Microsoft has done many of them. Like Spain and Portugal dividing up the "non-Christian world" in 1494 with the Treaty of Tordesillas, default search deals on PCs, browsers and mobile devices are essentially divided up between [...]

French Court Fines Google $660,000 Because Google Maps Is Free

google maps icon Google faces a $660,000 fine after a French court ruling that the company is abusing its dominant position in mapping by making Google Maps free. According to The Economic Times, the French commercial court "upheld an unfair competition complaint lodged by Bottin Cartographes against Google France and its parent company Google Inc. for providing free web mapping services to some businesses." Bottin Cartographes provides mapping services for a cost, and its website boasts several business clients such as Louis Vuitton, Airbus and several automobile manufacturers. The French court ruli [...]

Google To Join Anti-SOPA “Blackout Day” With Home Page Protest

Screen shot 2012-01-17 at 1.26.52 PM Google has confirmed to several media outlets (initially CNET) that it will join other prominent websites tomorrow, including Wikipedia, in protesting the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) bills. While Wikipedia has said it will go dark, Google will link to anti-SOPA information on its homepage. Still, that information will be seen by millions who otherwise might not know about the legislation. SOPA and PIPA are supported by a range of corporate entities and media companies that elicited these draconian bills from Congress to address global IP piracy, copyright violati [...]

Class Action Lawsuit Against Google For Ads On Parked Domains Turned Down

paidContent reports the lawsuit brought against Google in 2008 over quality of ads showing on parked or error message web pages has been thrown out by the court. On Thursday, January 5th, U.S. District Judge Edward Davila turned down the class action suit brought against Google. He said he would not allow the suit because "it was more appropriate for companies who had bought the ads to show any alleged harm on an individual basis," according to paidContent. Here is the 25-page court document with the ruling: Google Parked Domain Class Actionvar docstoc_docid="110404116";var docstoc_t [...]

US Gov’t Takes Baidu Off The “Notorious Markets” Black List

China has historically been the land of copyright and trademark infringement of Western software, goods and other intellectual property -- and Chinese websites such as Baidu and Taobao its willing handmaidens. In February of this year the US trade authority named Baidu one of the world’s "notorious markets" because it was seen facilitating copyright infringement. Here's what the US Trade Representative said in February: Baidu exemplifies the problem of online services engaged in "deep linking," which provide links to online locations containing the allegedly infringing materials. The [n [...]

Domain Seizures, De-Indexing And Censorship: Nevada Judge Dramatically Exceeds Limits Of His Authority

Image courtesy There's a multi-pronged assault on the internet going on now. It comes from over-zealous legislators, the US executive branch and individual judges. There's an effort on multiple fronts to grant over-broad powers to copyright owners to instigate domain seizures, cut-off funds and de-index "rogue" websites if found guilty of "infringement," where that concept is very expansively defined with potentially disastrous consequences for free speech and legitimate internet operations. As you've no doubt read there are two pieces of anti-piracy legislation before the US Congress: SOPA and the P [...]

Rhetoric vs. Reality: Schmidt Plays Up Mobile Competition In Written Senate Testimony

Screen-shot-2011-10-17-at-10.17.52-AM Is Google is a malevolent monopolist or merely the beneficiary of consumer choice in an intensely competitive environment? Has Google created a "network effect" that locks people in or is competition truly just "one click away"? These opposing views are on display in a PR war between Google and its opponents, such as anti-Google coalition (which includes Microsoft). Neither position is entirely accurate. Google is far from the monster its critics portray. But it's also not truly vulnerable the "one click" hypothesis or the "next new thing" either. On Friday Matt McGe [...]

Judge Throws Out Class Action Lawsuit Against Yelp

yelp-logo Yelp is off the hook, again. A judge has thrown out a class action lawsuit filed against Yelp that alleged the company tried to extort small businesses by promising to remove negative reviews in exchange for money. As we reported when the suit was first filed in February 2010, the plaintiffs -- which included a veterinary hospital in Long Beach, California -- claimed that Yelp's sales team said it would remove a "false and defamatory review" only if the vet bought advertising at about $300 per month. As CNET points out, that original suit was dismissed earlier this year and the plaintiffs w [...]

Sen. Franken Criticizes Google In Hearings, Praises Google In Promotional Video

Screen shot 2011-09-28 at 1.16.13 PM Politics are messy and often riddled with ethical potholes and challenges. One illustration of this is Senator Al Franken's apparent "conflict of interest" where Google is concerned. Discovered by Mike Blumenthal Franken did a "commercial" on behalf of Google's "Get Your Business Online" initiative in Minnesota. Blumethal characterizes Franken as "shilling for Google." It's not clear to me whether Franken's promotion of the Google campaign gives rise to a true conflict of interest. However, the concern here is the appearance created by the fact that Franken is a member of the Senate Judicia [...]

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