Case Study: Kinderstart.com (Site-Unique Bias)
Search Engine Honesty
Azinet LLC July 2006 REV March 2007
Kinderstart (http://www.kinderstart.com ) is a searchable web site directory intended to provide parents of “children aged zero to seven” with information on parenting, child care, and related subjects.
“Finding information specifically related to the care of young children on the 'net can be a daunting process. Broad Search Engines are fine, but not specifically focused on resources for young children, therefore surfers often do not find resources which would be useful in their care of young children.”
In March 2006, Kinderstart filed a class action suit in San Jose District Federal Court against Google: (Case No. C 06-2057 RS Kinderstart v Google Class Action, March 17, 2006)
In the suit, Kinderstart indicated that starting in April 2005 their Google PageRank (indicated on a Google toolbar) dropped to zero, and their referrals from Google dropped eventually to “0.01 percent” of referrals. The suit also mentions “blocked” in connection with Google, apparently referring to outright censoring ("banning") or delisting of their site as opposed to a simple decrease in rank.
The Class consists of: “All persons, companies or other entities owning Websites or Web pages on or after January 1, 2001 that suffered one or more of the following: (a) delisting or Blockage from Defendant Google’s Results Pages, (b) assignment, either manually or programmatically, of a PageRank of 0 immediately after having a PageRank of 2 or more, (c) penalization or other placement to a lower priority on Google’s Results Pages in connection with alleged failure to meet written or unwritten quality guidelines or WebSpam rules, or (d) placement to a lower priority on Google’s Results Pages using one or filters based on age, content or other criteria unknown in each such instance by the foregoing persons, companies or other entities.”
The complaint is alleging nine claims for relief: (1) Violation of Right to Free Speech under the U.S. Constitution and the California Constitution, (2) Attempted Monopolization under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, (3) Monopolization under Section 2 of the Sherman Act, (4) Violations of the Communications Act, 47 U.S.C. §§ 201,et seq., (5) Unfair Competition under California Business and Professional Code §§ 17200, et seq., (6) Price Discrimination under California Business and Professional Code § 17045, (7) Breach of the Implied Covenant of Good Faith and Fair Dealing, (8) Defamation and Libel, and (9) Negligent Interference with Prospective Economic Advantage.
The complaint may be accessed at: http://www.glawinfo.com/
Kinderstart is not currently “blocked” (that is completely censored from search results) by Google or any other major search engine. Yahoo has indexed 105,000 Kinderstart pages. Kinderstart.com has (7/2006) a Google PageRank of zero as displayed in the Google toolbar. MSN has indexed 1,000 pages. Google has indexed 29,800 pages. In addition to the directory, Kinderstart provides child care locator, kid friendly places, and other information supporting its role. Kinderstart carries Google ads.
However, Kinderstart is a rather definitive example of site-unique bias at Google. A Kinderstart page (not even the home page) doesn't show up until page 16 of search results (rank 159) on a Google search for "Kinderstart", well below many pages linking to Kinderstart and well below pages having only slight or no relevance to the search term (e.g. kinderart on results page 1, kinderstar, etc.). No other Kinderstart page appeared in the first 25 pages of Google results. Kinderstart.com pages come up ranked number 1 and number 2 on the first page of results for a Yahoo search for "Kinderstart". A search for "Kinderstart" on MSN Search also returns the kinderstart.com home page at position number 1. The Yahoo and MSN results are the ones we would expect to see for a company web site when searching for the company's name, especially if the company name is exactly the same as the site domain name.
Google filed a motion to dismiss. In July, 2006, the court dismissed all nine claims of the existing complaint (http://law.marquette.edu/goldman/kinderstartmtdgranted.pdf ), however, the court grants Kinderstart "leave to amend" and suggests specific areas in which the complaint could be amended. One area in which the court found promise for a successful complaint was defamation and libel. See http://www.searchenginehonesty.net/search_engine_censoring.html#defamation for a description of this issue.
In March 2007, the court dismissed all claims against Google:
The most promising claim, that publishing knowingly false statements via their PageRank function in the Google directory defamed Kinderstart was dismissed in part because Kinderstart had not "alleged malice sufficiently." Other objections by the court had to do with technical deficiencies in Kinderstart's claim. This action affirms that Google is a publisher and has complete editorial rights to manipulate search results in any manner. Search results are editorial content. However, the ruling seems to leave open the possibility that another complainant could be successful regarding the defamation issue.
Google seems to be phasing out their clone of the Netscape/AOL Open Directory in which they publish site PageRanks. The Google directory has apparently not been updated since 2005.
Kinderstart, like SeekOn (see separate case study) may have been censored because it contains a directory or merely because it was a large site by a small business.
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