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Google admits to whitelisting sites: endangering their European legal issues?

11 March 2011 BY

In a panel at SMX West, which has been going on in San Jose last week, both Google and Bing admitted that they have lists on which websites appear that should not be hit by algorithms. They themselves call it “exception lists” but in more general terms they could also be called Whitelists. This remark, which without a doubt was not intended to be harmful, might just harm the legal battle which Google is fighting in Europe.

The term whitelist is used by amongst others Foundem, who filed a complaint with the European corporate counsel about Google in 2006. The complaint was about how some vertical search engines got hit and others didn’t. That complaint is now being handled by the commission. And Google European corporate counsel Julia Holtz said in Brussels that the company doesn’t “whitelist or blacklist anyone”. Were they lying then or are they lying now?

Google will claim that it is not a ‘whitelist’ but an “exception list”, but in general it is the same. Google may make an exception for individual sites so it says. There is for example not a list for the latest Panda updates. And that it is “not the same”. It is made for sites which possibly have been wrongly demoted, so where a mistake in the algorithm has caused the drop.

The complaint by Foundem has a lot to do with ‘being honest”. Foundem claimed that Google was unfairly manipulating results. Google then claimed they never changed results manually. Google said it couldn’t turn back Foundem’s results because of the algorithm. It now seems they can.

The problem for Google might be that the recent developments won’t help their case in Europe. If you are a good lawyer, you can certainly work with this. Put this remark together with the manual changes they made when trying frame Bing and Matt Cutts making remarks about how the spam team “is willing to take action manually – for example, if we get a spam report, off-topic porn, things like that” and any judge will acknowledge that there is at least a reasonable doubt when it comes to Google’s claim they are not manually changing results.

Did they just Cutt(s) their own finger?

AUTHORED BY:
h

Bas van den Beld is a speaker, trainer and online marketing strategist. Bas is the founder of Stateofdigital.com. -- You can hire Bas to speak, train or consult.
  • http://www.lamphouse.co.uk itsmartie

    wow that could change things in europe then, they could have named a few websites that where on the whitelist and the reason for it. if its something all the search engines do then i also cannot see how google will loose the court caseat end of day its googles product, it works how they want it too and if some users dont like that then dont use it

    • http://www.basvandenbeld.com Bas van den Beld

      Hi itsmartie, the problem with the legal issues is that Foundem tried to get back into the results without success because Google claimed they couldn’t change the algorithm manually. It now seems they can, which makes Foundem’s case a lot stronger. That has nothing to do with Bing.

  • http://www.impactmedia.co.uk Mike Essex

    Wow. That’s quite unbelievable really, if not without precedent. I’m sure a lot of SEO conspiracy theorists will be pleased to hear this.

    However I wonder how this plays out in reality. For sites on the list it still doesn’t guarantee a number 1 ranking, it only ensures they won’t be penalised. Therefore if a strong site appears it can still beat them.

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  • http://www.rbi.co.uk maurice

    dear me Matt Must have been Chaneling Eric there. What they ment to say was the Algorithem was fine tuned in respose to a false negative report – wouldnt wan’t those nasty google sugest items coming up for President or Madame Sarkosi or Adrea Merkell would we :-)

  • http://www.twitter.com/sarahcarling Sarah

    As I understand this, what was said was that they make exception lists for particular elements of the algorithm, not general whitelists, so if a specific change hits 100 sites unfairly they will exclude those sites from being assessed by that part of the algorithm but if they fall foul of another part that will still stand. I don’t think this will effect the case much to be honest, unless they have added an exclusion for a specific part of the algorithm to other vertical search engines, and foundem and the like can categorically show that they had the same grounds for exception under the same algorithmic change.

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