A UK High Court prosecutor is giving Google a tough choice “let a working SEO see confidential algorithm documents or withdraw those documents as evidence of Google’s ranking impartiality.”
This lawsuit started back in 2013, seven years ago. The case was Foundem vs. Google. Foundem is a popular comparison shopping engine, and it argued that it was being punished and demoted in Google search results. Additionally, Foundem has been a harsh critic of Google in antitrust investigations conducted by the European Commission.
Google argued that it had de-indexed the company since most of its content was copied from other websites, which led to an automatic downgrading of search results. However, the European Commission found that Google had “abused its market position” and fined them approximately US$2.7 billion for favoring its content.
Additionally, Google was compelled to make changes to how it manages and presents Google Shopping results in the EU. The revamped results have faced controversial objections from European comparison shopping engines.
Foundem retained that SEO Philipp Klockner should review the documents Google submitted to the court, as part of their defense in this case. Those documents are reported to “explain the operation and aims of Google’s ranking algorithms, and how they have been applied to shopping comparison sites generally and Foundem in particular.”
Google objects to Philipp as an expert as he is a “working SEO” and also argues that Philipp is biased as he consulted other companies that gave testimony to the European Commission about these alleged anti-competitive practices.
Google’s evidence in support of the neutrality of its algorithm is the central basis of its defense. But the UK judge has stated that Google should allow Phillip to see the documents or withdraw them. The judge, Mr. Justice Roth, stated, “if Google renounces reliance of its application on its evidence in accordance with paras 50-52 above, then I will not now order Mr. Klockner be admitted to those two rings until further order.”
Why does it matter?
Google has fought really hard to protect the confidentiality of its algorithm, and this will make it the first time that someone not working for them will get access to this information. It will be quite exciting to see if Google withdraws the evidence and if it represents a blow to its defense.
Regardless, the outcome of this case is still not clear. An analysis by a third party suggested that the decline of Foundem ranking is partly due to bad SEO practices rather than any manipulation by Google.