Google faces lawsuit over search suggestions

A Belgium company has filed a lawsuit over search terms offered by Google's toolbar that directs users to pirated software.

A Belgian company has refiled a lawsuit over search terms offered by Google's toolbar that directs users to pirated software.

The suit, originally filed in February but dismissed earlier this month by a Belgian judge, was refiled Wednesday by ServersCheck BVBA, a small company that makes network monitoring software. The suit concerns Google's "Suggest" feature, included in the latest version of its search toolbar for Web browsers.

When a user types in keywords for a search, the toolbar shows a drop-down menu of guesses related to those words.

If ServersCheck is entered, Google generates suggested search terms such as "serverscheck crack," "serverscheck pro crack," and "serverscheck keygen," which lead to pirated software, said Maarten Van Laere, chief executive officer of ServersCheck.

Van Laere said he was told by Google that Web sites with illegal content would be removed from their index, but that it couldn't tweak the Suggest feature. So Van Laere filed suit, an action he said is an expensive option for a small company against a behemoth such as Google.

He's trying to get Google to change the Suggest results. Van Laere uses Google's tool for analyzing Web traffic and found that about 93 percent of ServerCheck's customers come to their Web site by way of the popular search engine.

"We don't have any problems with the fact that in Google you can find illegal copies of our software," Van Laere said. "There are people who will never buy the product at the end of the day.

"But people that are looking for your company's name in good faith are then being suggested by Google to go and look for a crack. That is a complete different ball game," Van Laere said.

Van Laere said the defense isn't accurate, since it appears that Google Suggest will not try to complete tracking numbers for shipping items or offer alternate suggestions for sexually-related terms. In a test, Google Suggest did not offer any related words for the terms "pornography," "naked" and "sex."

Google does not want to editorialize, but it has blocked some offensive words from generating suggestions, said Google attorney Trevor Callaghan. Those decisions are not based on laws, but on company discretion, he said.

"We just tend to try to create policy which we believe generates the best user experience while keeping the maximum amount of information available," Callaghan said.

Google's Suggest is in a beta release now, and policies concerning it could change over time, Callaghan said.

The latest problem is not the only run-in ServersCheck has had with Google. In its original lawsuit, ServersCheck complained that Google was allowing a competitor to use its brand name in an advertisement, falsely claiming that ServersCheck's software could be downloaded, Van Laere said.

Google agreed while the suit was making its way through court to halt advertisements on its AdWords service that used ServersCheck's name, Van Laere said.

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Jeremy Kirk

IDG News Service

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