Google may have to reveal specific details about its search algorithm after it was accused of anti-competitive practices in a long-running case with UK-based company Foundem.
UK courts have asked Google to either disclose the details or withdraw evidence to its defence, an ultimatum that could cost it a significant amount of money in damages.
Foundem, a vertical search company, first filed the lawsuit eight years ago, but it claims that Google had pushed its own products higher up in SERPs since 2006.
Foundem wants damages for what it deems to be a loss of revenue and business as a result of effectively being penalised and featuring lower down in search results.
It appears that there may be evidence to back up Foundem’s litigation as it used to feature prominently in search when it launched as a limited service in the 2000s.
However, after opening its low-price aggregator to everyone, Foundem’s pages plummeted in Google rankings and were often up to 100 or more pages lower than before.
Foundem says that this was not the case for other search engines where it continued to perform well.
Google has already provided confidential documents in attempts to prove that it has not done anything wrong, but the case reached an impasse and a judge has now delivered an ultimatum.
Google believes that the “integrity” of the ranking process would be compromised if it was forced to give up search algorithm details as the system relies on webmasters having equal access to information.
In a statement, it added: “This will no longer be the case if information of this kind is made available to some individuals offering commercial services to assist companies to improve their Search ranking.”
Google has “reasonable time” to respond to the dilemma, but it could potentially be a seismic moment for search if it had to divulge algorithm information in the future.