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February 19, 2009

Google's Lawsuit Problem

Google, as ever, is the lawsuit magnet based on its supremacy in the search and advertising markets.  Sometimes it wins a few, and sometimes it just sits there as a juicy target for (self) righteous individuals who want to take it down a notch.  One of Google's wins came with the dismissal of a privacy suit brought by a Pennsylvania couple who claimed that Google ignored private property and private road signs to photograph their house for inclusion in Street Views.  Google has provisions for removing such images on request, which was not generated by Aaron and Christine Boring.  They just upped and sued. 

Google argued that complete privacy does not exist, a view that might trouble some individuals, although pragmatically its true.  Other photos of the house are available from the Allegheny County assessor's web site.  How private is that Mr. and Mrs. Boring?  Ironically, filing the suit has probably lessened the Boring's privacy since their names and location are now plastered over the web.  It will not likely disappear similar to most information of its kind.  Oh, and the Borings ultimately did resort to Google's opt-out procedure.  So, what was the point of all that besides trying to extort money from a company?  Oh yeah, the principle of the thing.  Since there is no easy way to indicate derisive laughter in text, you'll just have to assume it appears at the end of the last sentence.

Now on to Google as a target.  TradeComet, a B2B search engine that buys advertising through Google has sued the company for antitrust violations.  TradeComet resold ads they bought from Google, which was fine until Google raised the rates.  TradeComet claims that Google saw it as a threat and used predatory means to end that threat.  What?  Anyone ever hear of TradeComet before this suit was filed?  Anyone?  Bueller?  Anyone?  If anyone has a claim against Google it might be, oh, maybe a larger search engine who can't make any headway in the search advertising market.  Microsoft?  Yahoo?  Any others.

That's not the worst of it for Google, if in fact this suit is even bad.  The Obama administration  has nominated Christine A. Varney as the DOJ antitrust chief.  Varney publicly stated that she sees Google as a monopoly, albeit a natural one.  If confirmed she would likely have the resources of the Justice Department watching Google's every move.  Looks as if being a heavy contributor to the Democratic party doesn't get you much these days.

More on this one in the Washington Post.

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February 19, 2009 | Permalink

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