Judge Orders Chevron To Halt Google AdWords Campaign
Judge Susan Illston issued a gag order on Monday banning both sides from discussing the case publicly. As part of that ruling, she ordered Chevron to stop running an AdWords campaign that used the name of the plaintiff, Larry Bowoto, to trigger ads for a Chevron Web site.
Illston did not order that the ad's landing page--a Chevron Web site that gives the company's take on the case--also be taken down. The Center for Constitutional Rights, which is representing Bowoto, also has statements about the case on its Web site.
The lawsuit stems from a 1998 incident in Nigeria, in which Bowoto led an environmental protest against Chevron. He alleges that the company was complicit with the Nigerian military in brutally squelching the protest. Bowoto, who was shot and wounded, is suing Chevron for human rights violations, racketeering and other charges.
Chevron says on its Web site that Bowoto and other Nigerians took control of an oil platform and held more than 100 workers hostage while demanding money and jobs.
Chevron purchased "Bowoto," "Bowoto Chevron," and "Bowoto lawsuit" as keywords on Google, so that links to Chevron's take on the incident would appear when people searched for information about the case.
Robert Mittelstaedt, a lawyer for Chevron, defended the move, arguing that the top organic results on Google for terms related to Bowoto took people to pages that were favorable to him.
"When one Googles this case," Mittelstaedt argued, "nine or 10 out of the top 11 or 12 hits are to plaintiffs' counsel."
But Illston reportedly said she was more troubled by Chevron's paid search links than the organic ones. "I am concerned about one thing here," she said. "And that is the addition of a sponsored link to Bowoto or Bowoto v. Chevron put out by Chevron. ... To me, that's the same thing as giving statements to the press."
Trial in the lawsuit began this week.