Nowadays, typing Mercedes in Google brings up a sponsored links from www.infiniti.com. I checked it out and for some reason no, Nissan didn’t sell any German cars. However, typing Infiniti lead to a dealer ad saying find a local German car.
Two weeks ago a French court deemed Google guilty of trademark counterfeiting and unfair competition because an Adsense user had bought the keyword (well the trademark) of a competitor to trigger its ads. The same thing already happened in the US yet Google boldly changed its policy in the UK.
At first I was tempted to accept the French court argument. After all, companies have certainly the right to defend the trademarks they’ve built and developed. But then I discovered that the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) was helping Google. It got me wondering.
The EFF argument is interesting; it defends this idea that on the Internet, trademarks are akin to navigation links, turned into necessary landmarks without which information access would be difficult if not impossible.
As an example, if Greenpeace wanted to attract worldwide attention to Monsanto’s suicide seeds why couldn’t they buy Ads pointing to their campaign site when the keyword Monsanto is typed? And what if Greenpeace used Monsanto as a meta-keyword?
This last argument is interesting since the battlefield suddenly switches from Ads real estate to pure searching. Should I type Monsanto and should Greenpeace campaign website had more trusted links pointing to it than Monsanto's website, Greenpeace would show up before Monsanto. Would then Google be prevented to use fair page ranking when it comes to trademark searches?
Similarly, since Google PageRank heavily relies on URL names, would it be infringement if Greenpeace campaign website had an URL including the term Monsanto?
And even if all of the above were forbidden, what would happen to the content itself? After all Google PageRank is now -albeit not originally- heavily relying on content as well.
The EFF is right: putting restrictions on AdSense keywords would ultimately lead to restricting Freedom of Speech.
But think about it, nothing would have had happened if Google had been in the traditional business of selling advertising space to established companies. It’s only because the Long Tail is speaking through AdSense that Google gets to be so adamantly backed up by Free Speech advocates. That's only because nearly everybody can buy Adsense to be heard that Free Speech is impacted.
Similarly, every time a book disappears from Google index, it's a bit of an autodafé. And Google knows it well who started the Book Search Library Project.
Every time a copyright infringement lawsuit is brought for copyrighted thumbnail pictures, it's Freedom of Speech at stake and the EFF is there too.
Isn’t that incredible that Google could incarnate at the same time the greatest threat to privacy and modern Free Speech?
PS: Today I typed Linux on Google; a Microsoft sponsored link showed up asking me to go to Microsoft's website. This shows three things:
- That Freedom of Speech is in action (Assuming Linus doesn’t sue Google and Microsoft )
- That Microsoft has smart lawyers: their ad said Compare Microsoft to Linux so that to get protection from comparison-advertising laws and regulations.
- That Microsoft has not-so-smart product managers: why would anybody in their right mind type Linux if they weren't already searching for the other OS?