Google is involved in a lawsuit that has the potential to result in the company revealing its long-guarded algorithm secrets.
As part of the lawsuit, Google has been given an ultimatum by UK courts to either withdraw evidence to its defence or disclose the details of its search algorithm.
Not only would Google have to hand over the details of its algorithm, it would have to hand them over to a working SEO consultant.
Google Has Two Choices
For obvious reasons, Google does not want to give up its algorithm secrets.
However, Google also doesn’t want to withdraw evidence which is vital in helping the company win the lawsuit.
Those are the only two choices Google has right now when it comes to fighting the lawsuit.
The only other choice would be to settle the lawsuit, which would reportedly involve millions in damages.
Not to mention that a settlement creates the perception of Google admitting to doing something wrong.
The best case for Google right now is if the company opts to withdraw evidence and somehow still wins the case.
How Did Google Get in This Situation?
We glossed over a plethora of details up to this point – we’ll get into them now.
This whole situation stems from a lawsuit against Google by a company called Foundem dating back to 2012.
That’s the year the lawsuit was filed, but actual events pertaining to the lawsuit date back to 2006.
Foundem alleges it was the victim of anti-competitive practices by Google.
According to Foundem’s claims, Google deliberately ranked its own products ahead of Foundem in search results starting in 2006.
Foundem is seeking damages for the loss of business it incurred as a result being ranked down in Google search.
What Happened to Foundem?
Foundem was a vertical-search engine for finding the lowest online prices.
It was initially only available to a limited group of users before being opened up to everyone.
Prior to being available for everyone, Foundem still appeared in search results.
Foundem appeared quite prominently in search results, in fact, often appearing on the first page for shopping-related searches.
In only two days after launching to everyone, Foundem was buried in Google’s search results.
Foundem dropped from the first page of search results to dozens and, sometimes, hundreds of pages lower.
What makes this suspicious is Foundem’s search rankings only dropped in Google. It still ranked well in other search engines.
That’s what lead Foundem to the notion that this was a deliberate effort to stifle competition against Google Shopping.
Google’s Algorithm is Now a Court Exhibit
Foundem filed a lawsuit against Google in 2012, which is still being fought to this day.
In an effort by Google to prove it didn’t engage in anti-competitive practices it provided confidential documents to the UK High Court.
The documents were filed as court exhibits by Google engineers Cody Kwok and Michael Pohl.
The judge presiding over the case says the documents aim “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”.
Foundem Demands An SEO Expert
The details of Google’s search algorithm would be too technical for lawyers to understand, Foundem argues, so it wants to bring in an SEO expert.
Specifically, Foundem wants to bring in Philipp Kloeckner to interpret the details of Google’s algorithm.
Google argues that giving its algorithm information to an SEO would compromise the integrity of its ranking process:
“The integrity of Google’s ranking processes relies upon all webmasters or website owners having the same degree of access to information about Google’s ranking… This will no longer be the case if information of this kind is made available to some individuals offering commercial services to assist companies to improve their Search ranking.”
Not satisfied with this response, Foundem suggests Google could simply withdraw the documents in question so no one ever has to see them.
Google then argues the documents are vital to proving its defence.
In other words – without these documents there is no case.
That brings us to where we are now.
In order to move the case along, the judge stepped in and said Google can either withdraw the documents or let them be seen by Philipp Kloeckner.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting.
If Google stays firm on neither withdrawing the documents or providing them to Kloeckner, the judge will grant Kloeckner the permission to view the documents himself.
The judge is giving Google “reasonable time” to make a decision, which surely can’t be an easy one to make.
We’ll have to wait and see how this plays out for Google. We could be on the verge of an historic event in search history.
Sources: The Register, The New York Times