Google: Of Course [Our Advertisers] Are Seeking To Hijack Or Divert Consumers

American Airlines has dropped its trademark infringement lawsuit against the all-powerful Google Inc. The lawsuit stemmed from the fact that the search engine allows search terms like “AAdvantage,” the trademark name of its frequent flier program, to be linked competitors’ sites that have no connection with American. If there was ever any doubt that Google sells out “proper” net searches to the highest bidder, let that doubt be forever melted away.

The AP article says,

Each side agreed to pay its own legal fees, and American recovered nothing from Google, according to an order signed by Judge John McBryde.

American was upset that when Google users entered search terms such as AAdvantage, the trademark name of its frequent-flier program, the results included Web sites that had no connection to American.

The airline said the results could confuse consumers and divert customers from its own Web site.

Google compared its policy to grocery stores that give shoppers a coupon for Minute Maid orange juice if they buy Tropicana, or magazines that publish a Ford ad on the page opposite from a story about Chevrolets.

“Of course they are seeking to ‘hijack’ or ‘divert’ consumers who have indicated an interest in their competitors’ products,” Google lawyers wrote in a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit. As long as the companies don’t falsely identify a product or service, it’s legal, they said.

The Internet company has settled similar cases brought by other U.S. companies, including those brought by insurer Geico and retailer American Blind & Wallpaper Factory Inc., but lost cases in France.

Because what Google is doing does not meet the legal definition of false advertising, they seem to be in the legal clear to associate whatever keywords they want to whomever they want. Do consumers want search results that are unrelated to our search terms? No, but we will undoubtedly continue to use Google anyway, since they are the virtual god of the Internet, and they know it.

American Airlines and Google settle lawsuit [AP]

Comments

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  1. Optimistic Prime says:

    I’m more freaked out by the ads in my Gmail. Sometimes I like to see what the e-mail is about by looking at the ads before reading the e-mail.

  2. blueskis says:

    The article says it’s about ADVERTISEMENTS for the airline’s competitors. This does not apply to just regular search results. That said, I did a google search for Aadvantage and it turned up advertisements for Advantage car rental, Citibank Aadvantage credit card (co-branded with American Airlines), and some guy trying to sell e-books about getting upgraded when you fly.

    Sounds like from the tone of the article, Jay, that you think the advertised search results should come up with exactly the word you searched for, with no spelling variations or related results. Do you really think it’s close-to-but-not-exactly-false-advertising to come up with alternative or related phrases?

    I don’t think google is that bad for doing this.

  3. DanPVD says:

    “American was upset that when Google users entered search terms such as AAdvantage, the trademark name of its frequent-flier program, the results included Web sites that had no connection to American.

    The airline said the results could confuse consumers and divert customers from its own Web site.”

    Because God-forbid someone search for “AAdvantage” and find the discussions about the program on sites like FlyerTalk.

  4. SirCrumpet says:

    “If there was ever any doubt that Google sells out “proper” net searches to the highest bidder” is kind of a dubious statement, considering they only sell the (clearly marked) advertising on the page, not the results themselves.

  5. trogam says:

    @Optimistic Prime: You wanna talk freaky e-mails? Try having ones for sensual e-cards, bad mothers, medival swords, and anime swords, all in one e-mail. Please note, in that partiuclar e-mail I had said the word “mom” once, “girlfriend” a couple times, and “fencing” a couple of times.
    None the less, it is quite disturbing.

  6. snakeskin33 says:

    Yeah, unless this is actually about search results and not the clearly marked ads and sponsored links, saying that they “sell out” the searches is untrue. Maybe I’m not understanding, and maybe there’s an actual allegation that the search results are tampered with, but that’s not my understanding of the dispute. My understanding is that it’s about sponsored links and ads, in which case saying that they change actual search results for money is really misleading.

  7. balthisar says:

    This has upset me for years. In this case, we’re not talking about AdWords or paid links, but just simple searching. It’s almost a “duh” moment, because it’s a search engine reacting to user queries. But the paid AdWords is just as justifiable. Suppose I (as a user) am looking for an alternative to “Coca Cola.” Why shouldn’t Pepsi be allowed to pay for the Coca Cola AdWord so that a Pepsi ad shows up? It obviously qualifies as a Coke-like product (yeah, yeah, Coke vs. Pepsi — you know what I mean). Google has already been sued and lost these types of cases.

  8. Angryrider says:

    This is stupid. Never have I even searched “AAdvantage.” because it’s retarded. Advantages of American Airlines, maybe. NEVER EVER AAdvantage.

  9. chrisjames says:

    @snakeskin33: Searching for “Aadvantage” gives three sponsored links:

    - AA.com: the appropriate result, I think.
    – CitiCards.com: earn bonus miles. Still ok.
    – FirstClassFlyer.com: which redirects to a page that asks you for your name and email, using free_gift_wrapper.php.

    I’d say Google is selling misleading links and ads.

  10. zwill says:

    Please give your readers some credit. We understand the difference between the standard and sponsored results in a Google search. And some of us are even clever enough to have the sponsored links filtered from our browsers. We don’t even see them.

  11. theblackdog says:

    That spider is creepy.

  12. TheFlamingoKing says:

    “Do consumers want search results that are unrelated to our search terms? No, but we will undoubtedly continue to use Google anyway, since they are the virtual god of the Internet, and they know it.”

    Who said anything about it being unrelated to the search? It’s just links to competitors or parallel companies. If a sponsored link goes to a consumer forum (like, say, consumerist.com) how is that unrelated to the search? If I get links to Southwest’s frequent flier program or some generic frequent flier program or even a credit card that earns AA frequent flier miles, how is any of that unrelated to the search?

    Sounds like someone’s putting some heavy anti-Google bias in this statement. This type of article hurts The Consumerist’s image, as every article starts repeating the broken-record mantra of “Corporations are evil!” over and over again.

  13. I think the real story here is that American Airlines is a bunch of whiners. Unless they’ve dramatically changed things around since the lawsuit (which is possible I suppose), it’s just an airline claiming sour grapes because a search algorithm assumes that if you’re interested in frequent flier programs you might be interested in more than just American Airlines.

  14. mac-phisto says:

    i can’t say that i have a problem with this. obviously, if i search “aadvantage”, my 1st returned result should be for american, but competitive links are also useful. & in terms of adlinks, it just makes sense to me that competitors would want their ads to appear when i search for a product/service & would pay to be included in those results.

    typically, my searches aren’t for something so specific anyway. aadvantage in firefox location bar automatically redirects to [www.aa.com] & lately, i use that technique (ctrl+t, ctrl+l, clickity-clickity whatever i’m looking for, enter). if firefox can’t find exactly what i need, it sends me to google anyway where i can comb thru the results, or rarely to a page that i don’t want (in which case i simply do ctrl+l, g clickity-clickity whatever i’m looking for, enter).

    easy peasy.

  15. johnfrombrooklyn says:

    We the people have freely and willingly given Google more data on us than we would ever give the government. Google is becoming the all-knowing brain and will someday use that information to harm us. Google is now a publicly-traded global corporation whose one goal is to maximize profits. If we quit clicking on enough silly ads to flatten our stomach or get our teeth whiter, Google will find a way to sell off our data to private companies, foreign countries, or even go into business for itself using its customers’ data. Save this post. You will see I’m right in 10 years.

  16. mac-phisto says:

    ^^

    XD

  17. Wally East says:

    @johnfrombrooklyn: “If we quit clicking on enough silly ads to flatten our stomach or get our teeth whiter, Google will find a way to sell off our data to private companies, foreign countries, or even go into business for itself using its customers’ data.”

    Well, then don’t stop clicking. Problem solved, you’re welcome.

    On the other hand, maybe Google will squelch information about the planet’s imminent explosion and a scientist will place his only son in rocket and send him to a far off planet, Krypton! And Google will roam the galaxy, looking for more information and click-throughs.

  18. clnclarinet says:

    @zwill: Actually, people are surprisingly bad at distinguishing sponsored results from regular results– the linked study says that in 2005, only 1 in 6 said they could always tell them apart.

  19. rainrunner87 says:

    All I have to say is that we ought to think back to when an airline (Was it American?) that had no train services at all showed up as a sponsored link for a search on “train tickets”, with “train tickets” in the heading of the link, and had no train-related services on the site linked to. If the airlines get to do that, why do they get to bitch about their competitors doing something similar?

  20. bigbadbyte says:

    Overreacting. They clearly differentiate paid results from real ones. If people can’t tell the difference, its their fault. Same as if you can’t tell an Ad in a magazine apart from an actual column. I still think Google has done nothing wrong.

    And even if you don’t like it you could always (GASP) use a different search engine. Its the easy people, you need a list. Yahoo, Alta Vista, Lycos… Its not like a cable company, you have choices. Google is one of the few truly competitive markets. There is nothing making you use Google.

  21. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    American Airlines is laying off thousands and reducing the size of it’s fleet. er, … how many lawyers have been laid off?

  22. TheNerd says:

    So, what, now American Airlines (and aparently a host of other companies) thinks the average American is a dumbass? I am smart enough to realize when a return on my search isn’t the one I want. I can tell the difference between americanairlines.com and ameriair.com (for example), and I know those little ads on the right-hand column sometimes generate false returns. Frankly, this lawsuit is an insult to our entire population.

  23. Ad-Muncher

    It is so nice never having to see a darn Google ad.

  24. Trai_Dep says:

    Donno. I think AA should thank their blood-drinking gods that Google didn’t return Adwords for Consumerist articles featuring American Airlines’ “service”.
    > They got off bleeding lucky.

  25. ManiacDan says:

    @SirCrumpet: I agree with Crumpet here, Google only sells the spaces on the page clearly marked as advertising. This is contrary to what other search engines do: actually selling the top results. If Pepsi wants to pay $2 a click for a “Pepsi is better” ad whenever someone searches for Coke, they should be allowed.

    As much as I hate that google is taking over the world, their ad policy is the best in the business, and I think this article was overly harsh.

  26. RogueSophist says:

    Yes, this article needs to make clear that the case is about “sponsored results” and not “natural results.” Courts are divided on “Adword”-based trademark claims. Uninformed reporting, to say the least.

  27. mcjake says:

    Does no one understand how advertising works? It’s all about distracting consumers from other brands to your product. AND Google doesn’t sell search results, it sells “sponsor links.”

    For people that are publishers on the internet I would expect better. I call foul.

  28. Bix says:

    The only thing wrong is how weird the eBay ads can get. Which isn’t very wrong, because they’re usually hilarious.

  29. harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law says:

    @zwill:

    How?

  30. Sockatume says:

    What the hell, Consumerist? There’s never been any evidence that Google’s advertisers affect search results, and your stance based upon this bizarre assumption would back the subjugation of search engines by trademark holders.

    “American was upset that when Google users entered search terms such as AAdvantage, the trademark name of its frequent-flier program, the results included Web sites that had no connection to American.”

    This is no more malevolent than typing “Da Vinci Code” into your library’s catalogue search and getting results other than Dan Brown.

    “they seem to be in the legal clear to associate whatever keywords they want to whomever they want.”

    That’s what a search algorithm is supposed to do. American Airlines wanted Google to artificially exclude their competitors from results. Do you want Google’s search algorithm to work in its usual, blind fashion, or do you want it to bow to trademark owners?

    “[S]earch results that are unrelated to our search terms”

    Does Consumerist believe that the only related results are those provided by the trademark owner? Should a search for “Powerpoint”, a Microsoft trademark, feature only Microsoft-sanctioned search results, and exclude Openoffice?

  31. Sockatume says:

    It seems to me that what Consumerist really wants to get pissy about is SEO, which is how those rivals wind up so high on the results for “aadvantage”.

    (For the curious, the first page of Google results is wall-to-wall with either American Airlines hits, Wikipedia, or credit cards which offer AA miles. The first non-related result is a car dealership called CU Aadvantage Autos, presumably a typo, on Page 3, and the rival airlines don’t start to appear until some time after Page 10. I don’t know where because I got bored of looking.)

  32. Sockatume says:

    Reading beyond the press release, and the lawsuit isn’t even about search results. It was about adwords. So Consumerist wants trademark holders to control the use of advertisements in spaces around their trademarks in a manner beyond that protected by existing trademark law, or what?

  33. dweebster says:

    @johnfrombrooklyn: Man, you are really nuts. Are you saying something like a judge could just come along and tell Google to give up information on every user they have? [www.computerweekly.com]

    That’ll never happen in the “land of the free.” Put another layer of tin foil on your head you crazy person, Google’s massive stores of information will never be used for nefarious purposes.

  34. Brazell says:

    @johnfrombrooklyn: In this grand conspiracy of Google maximizing profits you’ve failed to notice that GOOGLE HAS ALREADY MAXIMIZED PROFITS and has not sold our precious information … like … the photos I upload to Picasa.

    They’ve become one of the wealthiest companies in the world by _not_ controlling our minds, I don’t see why they’d change the business plan to something else that millions of failed companies have tried to do and… well… failed at.

    Plus, what information have I given Google that the government doesn’t have on me? My Gtalk screen name… uhhh… my google sites links? Some videos I’ve uploaded? Every April I am compelled by law to tell the government how much money I make and then give them a certain percentage of it. I do not tithe to Google, though I certainly do tithe to my government.

  35. crichton007 says:

    Oooh, sour grapes. Google is selling the text ads, not the results themselves. They have a business to run and that’s how they’re making the money.

  36. zwill says:

    @clnclarinet: First of all, I can’t trust a study based on data accumulated four years ago. I’d like to think that the average internet user has learned a bit in the last four years, especially as Google has risen from nothing to become the most-used search engine. Perhaps I am wrong in that assumption but I don’t think so.

    More importantly, I was referring to the typical Consumerist reader. I’d like to think that the average reader of this site is a bit more internet-savvy than the average websurfer and also is much more aware of the marketing messages being aimed at him or her.

    @harvey_birdman_attorney_at_law:
    http://www.customizegoogle.com