The right to life, liberty, and a favorable ranking
Google uses its algorithms to set the Page Rank of websites. Anyone with a google toolbar can immediately see that Concurring Opinions has a pagerank of 5. Pageranks are determined based on Google’s algorithms, which are supposed to related to a site’s popularity (and to some degree, to longevity, as links build up). The system seems to work pretty well. Volokh.com has a pagerank of 7; the brand-new Orinkerr.com has a pagerank of 0 at present, but will doubtless climb the pagerank . . er, ranks . . . as it develops a track record of links.
Pageranks are more than just bragging rights, however. They affect how one’s site is listed in search results; this means dollars. And so we see this lawsuit:
A parental advice Internet site has sued Google Inc., charging it unfairly deprived the company of customers by downgrading its search-result ranking without reason or warning. . . .
KinderStart charges that Google without warning in March 2005 penalized the site in its search rankings, sparking a “cataclysmic” 70 percent fall in its audience — and a resulting 80 percent decline in revenue.
It seems problematic to suggest any right to a particular rank from a third-party ranking service. After all, there’s no contractual relationship here. And torts, like interference with business relationships, seem like a real stretch. Google isn’t a common carrier or anything else; Google is a third party, which happens to rank websites.
This isn’t such an unusual activity; entities create rankings all the time. If we chose to do so, we could rank something here at Co-Op — law blogs, perhaps — and I don’t think that we would have a responsibility to any of the entities we ranked. If our (hypothetical and non-existent) rankings listed Volokh.com at #1 and Conglomerate at #10, I don’t think that Gordon Smith could sue us — even if those rankings drove more traffic from Co-Op to Volokh than they did from Co-Op to Conglomerate. After all, we have no contract with any of them. (Similarly, if U.S. News lowers the rank of my law school, I don’t think that I’ve got an action against them.)
But I’d love to hear otherwise. And I’m ready to adapt with the times, if needed. I fact, I’ve got a complaint against Eugene Volokh all ready to go — you see, I don’t think he’s been listing Co-Op high enough up on his blogroll . . .