Google’s decision should not leave the SEO sphere untouched. In a lawsuit that opened in 2012 before the British High Court of Justice, the American multinational is accused by Foundem, a price comparison site, of anti-competitive practices: Google is said to have downgraded its products in the search results of its engine from 2006. The American firm must now choose between disclosing the secrets of its algorithm or withdrawing confidential documents provided in the context of this trial.
An independent SEO expert appointed, Google tries to discredit it
Foundem replied that these documents, which were supposed to provide a better understanding of how Google’s search algorithm works, were too technical for British judges. The latter thus granted Foundem the possibility of appointing an independent SEO expert, Philipp Kloeckner, who would be authorized to examine these confidential documents.
The expert would thus have access to what the British now call Google’s “crown jewels,” which the Mountain View firm is trying to avoid by all means.
The American search engine has even tried to discredit Philipp Kloeckner in the British court, arguing that the expert had worked for Trivago and Visual Meta, two companies that have already complained to the European Commission about anti-competitive practices against him, to replace him with its own two experts, to no avail.
The origins of the case: Google’s abuse of dominance
While it was only accessible to a handful of users, Foundem has always appeared on the first page in Google’s search results for shopping-related queries. As described in the New York Times, two days after it was opened to the general public, the British price comparator plummeted in Google’s index, tens, or even hundreds of pages away from its initial positioning.
Evidence of an abuse of dominant position on the part of the search engine for the benefit of its Google Shopping service, Foundem managed at the same time to maintain its positions in the SERPs of the other search engines. The company filed a complaint in 2012 with the British High Court of Justice and sought damages from Google for the losses suffered.
To prove its innocence in this case, Google provided a series of confidential documents through two engineers, Cody Kwok and Michael Pohl.
Google’s dilemma and the consequences of this case
In mid-March, the British High Court of Justice granted Google a “reasonable time” to make its choice: either it allows the expert Philipp Kloeckner to consult these documents, with the risk that the entire SEO community may know the secrets of its algorithm once the case is made public, or it withdraws its confidential documents, which will effectively make it guilty of abuse of a dominant position in its lawsuit against Foundem.
As a third alternative solution, Google could also propose to the comparator to reach an out-of-court settlement with millions of euros in damages. If this choice allows it to avoid having to reveal the core of its search algorithm, it implies that Google would admit its guilt in this case, which would open the way for other web players who are also victims of the search engine’s anti-competitive practices. In either case, Google will have to make a choice, which should have severe consequences within the SEO community.