A Busy Year for Google’s Legal Team?

Well, the lawyers at Google sure are having a busy month. Yesterday, an Italian judge found 3 Google executives guilty of privacy violations and sentenced them to a suspended 6 month sentence. You know, in prison. The violation was around the 2006 posting of a video showing an autistic boy being bullied and abused. Although the video was quickly taken down, there is some dispute on Google’s reaction time to do so. This isn’t the first time Italy has slapped Google. Last December they were found guilty of copyright violations in a suit brought by Playboy/Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s commercial broadcast empire Mediaset. And an Italian newspaper federation is calling for a formal investigation into Google on antitrust grounds.

On to other European problems, the EU’s antitrust authorities have opened a formal investigation of Google in Brussels. The dispute is centered around alleged anti-competitive practices and abuse of Google’s dominant market position. A number of companies are accusing Google of downgrading search engine rankings for some of their competitors or potential competitors. In an August post on it’s website, accusing company Foundem said “Google has always used various penalty filters to remove certain sites entirely from its search results or place them so far down the rankings that they will never be found.” For you conspiracy buffs out there, it’s important to note that 2 of the 3 companies raising these allegations have ties to Microsoft, who surely has an interest in seeing Google’s dominance broken. The plot thickens!

Back in the States, Delaware-based Xerox announced that they are suing both Google and Yahoo for e-commerce and search patent infringement. This suit alleges that Google’s AdWords and AdSense software violate an existing Xerox patent for generating queries on an automated basis.

And earlier this month, a case was filed in Ohio by shopping search company myTriggers, alleging that Google violated antitrust laws by unfairly inflating the cost of their pay per click ads by dropping their quality score. Google’s quality score is based on a subjective evaluation of a landing pages relevance to the keyword phrase used by the searcher. As relevance improves, quality score increases and the keyword price drops. The suit brought by myTriggers alleges that the drop in quality score drove the price of their search ads up so dramatically that they were, in effect, forced to stop PPC advertising with Google.

The suit further accuses Google of a level of favoritism in determining quality scores for advertisers that may violate antitrust laws. “On information and belief,” the lawsuit alleges, “Google enters into agreements with a number of search websites, including rival shopping comparison sites, that allow these sites to participate in AdWords keyword auctions without being subject to the same ‘quality’ scoring Google applies to other search rivals, including myTriggers.”

Is the beloved “Do No Evil” Google brand being starting to show some tarnish? Last year’s stealthy roll out of Personalized Search raised some eyebrows from the search marketing community, but was largely ignored by mainstream media and the general searching consumer. More recently, the privacy fumbles around the launch of Buzz certainly generated some negative chatter.

There’s no doubt that Google is being put under the microscope more and more, and their deep-pocketed competitors are most likely stoking the flames. If this is the year that the general public actually wakes up and realizes just how closely Google watches and records their every online move, at some point we may look back at 2010 as the year of the Privacy Backlash.

Google, Internet Privacy, Search Engine Marketing, Search Engines,