Matt Cutts, the lead of the search spam team, posted in a Hacker News thread that is probably doesn't make sense to sue Google over negative results.
He is responding to post named Panda loss as libel where someone considered starting a company to just sue over negative search results. Here is the tweet with the idea:
My next startup idea is a company that helps companies sue other companies that overtake their Google page rank.— fogus (@fogus) June 12, 2012
He wouldn't be the first person who would like to do so. But would it work? Google's Matt Cutts says likely not.
Matt said in the thread, it has been tried at least two times and both times Google won:
On the search engine side, there's been a couple of solid court decisions in the United States:
- In SearchKing vs. Google, a company sued because it didn't like its rankings/PageRank. SearchKing had been selling links that passed PageRank, which violates Google's quality guidelines. The court determined that "PageRanks are opinions - opinions of the significance of particular web sites as they correspond to a search query. Other search engines express different opinions, as each search engine's method of determining relative significance is unique. The Court simply finds there is no conceivable way to prove that the relative significance assigned to a given web site is false." As a result, Google was entitled to "full constitutional protection" for its opinions.
- In KinderStart.com vs. Google, a company sued Google over a lower ranking. The judge not only dismissed that case, he allowed sanctions against KinderStart's counsel for making various claims (like Google skewing results for political/religious reasons) that couldn't be proven. So in the U.S., we have a couple very nice court cases that establish that search engine rankings are opinions and protected speech. If someone tried to sue over a set of search results, I believe they would find that a very hard case to make.
Of course, things like libel and defamation apply online as well as offline.
As you see, Matt says that if someone says something libel or defamatory, of course you can sue that person directly. But to sue Google over ranking that content, it is probably a waste of your time and money.
Forum discussion at Hacker News.
Image credit to BigStockPhoto for sue yes or no image