Search engines sued over pay-for-placement.
February 4, 2002 12:05 PM   Subscribe

Search engines sued over pay-for-placement. "The maker of a popular weight-loss system filed suit against four search engines this week, alleging that their policy of letting advertisers pay to appear in top-ranked search results violated federal and state trademark and fair-competition laws." [from CNN]
posted by tranquileye (14 comments total)
Can I sue Body Solutions for ripping me off? That shit doesn't work, and I'm out $100.
posted by starvingartist at 12:24 PM on February 4, 2002

seriously, i hope they win. It would make my job so much easier. (especially since my boss has a hard time getting funding for the website to begin with. Which goes a long way in explaining why i have the job in the first place....)
posted by bunnyfire at 12:39 PM on February 4, 2002

Danny Sullivan, a consultant and journalist who maintains the Search Engine Watch Web site, which gives tips and information on searching the Web, said Thursday that "every major search engine in the U.S." employs pay-for-placement search results and that this complaint is nothing new.

Am I missing something here?
posted by walrus at 12:47 PM on February 4, 2002

Payolla! just like in the good old days! Yea! three cheers for capitalism!! And every other form of govt!! Call for Ken Starr!! Enronize this now!!
posted by Postroad at 1:07 PM on February 4, 2002

walrus: well, google's version of textads is arguably pay-for-place, even if it is clearly marked as advertisement. That's probably what he is referring to.
posted by louie at 1:15 PM on February 4, 2002

Pretty misleading comparison, though. And almost certainly not actionable under this suit, since clearly demarcated.
posted by walrus at 1:24 PM on February 4, 2002

$450 million?!! They're taking the piss, surely. Body Solutions is that stuff that you drink before bedtime and you wake up thin, right? Kind of like beer in reverse.
posted by dlewis at 1:25 PM on February 4, 2002

Oh wait, I get it now:

"Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula™ is simple to use. All you do is take it on an empty stomach at bedtime."

Think I'm going to try selling coloured water as a $100 a month weight loss formula. Take 3 times daily. For best results, avoid eating any food 8 hours before and after each dose.
posted by dlewis at 1:32 PM on February 4, 2002

actually what it means folks is that the a business has to pay in order to have good placement on a search engine.

I know technically Yahoo isnt a search engine, but Yahoo does this to you if you are a business. They aren't the only ones......I work in the real estate field and this is a big deal as the real estate companies compete to get their websites before prospects.
posted by bunnyfire at 2:02 PM on February 4, 2002

Seriously, I hope they lose this case. Bigtime. When did the major search engines become regulated public property?

Yahoo owns its own site; presumably it can put links on its pages in whatever order it wants to -- which includes putting those who pay the most cash at the top of the list. What kind of legal precedent would it set if body solutions wins this? Take it to its logical conclusion: If I put up a web page listing "my favorite blogs" and omitted MetaFilter, Matt could sue me for unfairly supporting the competition. Same principle, just on a larger scale.

This kind of thing is pretty self-regulating, anyway. If the search engines let their rankings get too far out of whack, people will just switch to other engines.
posted by ook at 3:57 PM on February 4, 2002

When did the major search engines become regulated public property?

Most behavoir by people and businesses are regulated in some manner. Businesses do have to be concerned about unfair trade practices, and oversight by the FCC, the SEC, the FTC, the FDA, the IRS; and whatever other governmental acronymed organizations might be applicable.

If Google mixed their search results with their paid ads, and you couldn't tell one from the other, and they implied that all results were relevancy based, they would be engaging in false advertising, and subject to government sanctions.

Suits regarding trademarks placed in competitor's meta tags mostly have been found in favor of the mark holder. It's a good result. I'm hoping the Texas diet pill manufacturer wins this one.

The SF Gate version of this story gives a little more detail:, for example, recently paid Overture 72 cents per click to be the top result for queries about Mark Nutritionals' Body Solutions, though it does not sell that product. It was followed in the rankings by Visionizin' America, a shopping site that paid 71 cents for each person sent to a sales pitch for its own brand of diet pills.
posted by bragadocchio at 5:00 PM on February 4, 2002

Danny Sullivan's opinion of this lawsuit is much better served by his own words on the searchenginewatch website, than by the quote in the article. It's an excellent anaylsis of the issues involved, and includes copies of the actual complaints.
posted by bragadocchio at 6:19 PM on February 4, 2002

Thanks for the other links -- the other stories are much more complete. (And excellent support for this idea.) But I still don't agree with the conclusion that the search engines should be the ones liable here.

I could understand the lawsuits e.g. Body Solutions versus PerfectHealth4Life, since they're the ones effectively coopting Body Solutions' trademark by paying for placement on a product they don't sell.

But many of the engines named in the suit have been pay-for-placement for years now; they've been open about it, so no false advertising applies. It's perfectly fair, from their point of view: top ranking on the search results is available to anybody who is willing to pay for it. Yay, capitalism.

(Let me say -- I find the practice as annoying as anybody does. Which is why I don't use those search engines. But it's still Overture's right to use a pay-for-placement business plan if they choose, as far as I'm concerned.)
posted by ook at 7:56 AM on February 5, 2002

Take it to its logical conclusion: If I put up a web page listing "my favorite blogs" and omitted MetaFilter, Matt could sue me for unfairly supporting the competition. Same principle, just on a larger scale.

I disagree. You're not purporting to be a "search engine." It's a term that implies impartiality. And while we MeFiDenizens may be aware of what most search engines really are, I don't know if you can say that that knowledge extends to the average user.
posted by zerolucid at 3:52 PM on February 9, 2002

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