Search Engines Prevail In Battle With Locksmiths Over Listings

Siding with Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, a federal judge has dismissed claims by locksmith companies over search results.

Baldino's Lock & Key of Newington, Virginia and 13 other locksmiths alleged in a 2017 lawsuit that the search engines populate their results with listings by unlicensed locksmiths, in order to convince licensed locksmiths to pay for ads. Baldino's and the others argued that the search companies' alleged actions amounted to the "abuse of monopoly control."

U.S. District Court Judge Trevor McFadden in Washington, D.C. dismissed the claims late last week. He ruled that the Communications Decency Act protects the search engines from liability for returning links to unlicensed businesses. That law says that web companies aren't responsible for displaying material created by third parties.

"In common sense terms, it is the scam locksmiths ... who are providing the information that potentially creates liability here," McFadden wrote.

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The locksmith companies -- also paid-search advertisers -- also claimed that the search engines violated their ad contracts by acting in bad faith. "It is bad faith for Defendants to knowingly dilute the value of the advertising paid for by Plaintiffs by knowingly burying Plaintiffs’ listings under a large number of phony listings," the locksmiths alleged.

McFadden dismissed those claims as well, but said the locksmiths can amend their complaints and try again to pursue the breach of contract allegations.

Baldino's previously sued Google alone over its search results. That case was dismissed in 2015 by U.S. District Court Judge Claude Hilton in the Eastern District of Virginia. Hilton ruled that Google wasn't responsible for any misrepresentations in its search results.

Baldino appealed to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld Hilton's ruling. "The locksmiths who generated the information ... are solely responsible for making any faulty or misleading representations or descriptions of fact," the appellate panel wrote.

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