When you own two-thirds of all Internet search -- as Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) does, per comScore Inc. -- you may expect a big bullseye on your back as part of achieving such dominance.
At least, that appears to be the case for Google, which singlehandedly is a kind of lawyers’ relief organization.
There are literally hundreds of suits proceeding against Google, maybe thousands, and they range from the trivial (including a nominee for “worst lawsuit of 2010”) to cases that get at the very heart of what the Internet is and should be in the 21st century.
Memo to incoming Google CEO Larry Page: You might want to investigate just why Google is involved in so many cases, such as the following...
EU vs. Google: Does Google give priority placement to AdWords buyers? This is not a suit yet, but The New York Times reports that the European Union -- as part of ongoing antitrust investigations into Google -- has circulated questionnaires looking for links between buying ads and more visibility in search results. This could get very messy if evidence of links emerges.
Buzzing about Buzz: Does Buzz breach your privacy? A Manitoba man filed suit claiming exactly that. He says he declined enrollment in Buzz, but Google set up a Buzz profile on him anyway, exposing info he deems private to the public. The case is interesting, because aren’t we all Buzz users (and did we volunteer)?
DoJ vs. Google: Most observers are puzzled by the DoJ threat to block Google’s ITA acquisition, but the merger could have a huge effect on travel search, especially regarding air fares.
More bad news on the antitrust front comes from the interest of bulldog lawyer Gary Reback -- who brought considerable grief to Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) over anti-trust issues -- in persuading the DoJ to open broad investigations into what Reback sees as a pattern of anti-competitive actions by Google.
Google vs. US Dept of Interior: A judge blocked a Department of the Interior RFP in early January, after Google alleged that the bidding for a contract worth over $59 million was rigged in favor of Microsoft. Google very much wants to go toe-to-toe against Microsoft in public sector bids, and in this suit Google fired a very loud warning shot across the government’s bow.
Paul Allen vs. Google (and just about everybody else): The Microsoft co-founder’s initial suit was tossed out in August, but in late December his company, Interval Research, was back in court with an amended suit alleging that Google -- along with Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL), Facebook (Nasdaq: FB), Yahoo Inc. (Nasdaq: YHOO), and others -- infringes key patents owned by Interval that govern how news, movies, and more are displayed on Websites. This suit could hit, not just Google, but everybody’s Web experience. Is Allen just a patent troll? Very hard to say, but experts are sure the defendants are in for a long and expensive ride in court before decisions are rendered.
Google and the Pirates: Google recently filed an amicus brief supporting MP3Tunes in its case against music publisher EMI. Michael Robertson, founder of the MP3 site, says, “This will be a defining case about the future of cloud services.”
The World vs. Google Street View: Google’s hoovering up of private info from unsecured WiFi networks while assembling Street View databases has triggered at least eight (count 'em, 8!) class action suits. This will be another long and expensive slog through the judicial system for Google (not to mention the continuing bad press).
Google vs. iLOR: This is an ugly suit that has kicked around the courts in Kentucky since 2007. The plaintiff, a firm that makes software for manufacturer quotes, alleges that Google’s Notebook tools infringe on patents it owns. A Federal Circuit Appeals court recently ruled that Google had not achieved the high level of proof needed to make a label of “frivolous” stick to this suit. Observers see it going to the Supreme Court.
Worst Lawsuit Award: Google made the shortlist in a US Chamber of Commerce selection of candidates for worst lawsuit of 2010. Lauren Rosenberg of Northridge, Calif., used a Google Map while strolling around Park City, Utah, and apparently got hit by a car. So she sued Google.
Having a bullseye on your back can indeed get expensive.
— Robert McGarvey is a widely published author and expert on social media.