Google accuses SEO biz Local Lighthouse of false claims, robo-calls

No one can guarantee a spot on the first page of results, says ad goliath

Google has taken exception to SEO outfit Local Lighthouse that apparently wrongly implied it has an affiliation with The Chocolate Factory.

The American web goliath has taken legal action against the smaller biz in the northern district of California, alleging Local Lighthouse uses nuisance calls to sell its services. Google accuses the Costa Mesa, California-based SEO gang of breaking laws on trademarks, unfair competition, and false advertising.

The whole business of gaming Google's engine attracts charlatans who reckon they can get your organization or project at the top of the first page of web search results. In its court paperwork [PDF] filed on Wednesday, Google claims:

Defendant's statements guaranteeing first-page placement in GOOGLE search results constitute false statements about Defendant's services because no SEO company, including Defendant, can guarantee such placement. These statements also constitute false statements about Google's services, because the necessary implication of such statements is that first-page placement in GOOGLE search results can be guaranteed through SEO methods.

But it's the alleged affiliation that has really upset Google:

Google is informed and believes, and based thereon alleges, that Defendant's sales agents have made and continue to make various false and misleading claims during Defendant's telemarketing calls to confuse consumers regarding the true source or nature of Defendant's services and the relationship between Google and Defendant. These include: (i) claims that Defendant's sales agents represent Google or are calling on behalf of Google; (ii) claims that Defendant is affiliated with Google or has been contracted by Google to provide SEO services; and (iii) other claims designed to obfuscate Defendant's identity and foster the mistaken belief that Defendant and its services are approved, sponsored, or endorsed by Google.

Google claims Local Lighthouse sales representatives were introducing themselves as "Google Local Listing representatives" – and had been using software to play pre-recorded messages to people in cold-calls, or in other words: robo-dialers. Google has asked for a jury trial.

In its Public Policy Blog, Google sets out its view on automated calling, saying it's illegal under US law, and that anyone using such technology, claiming to be from Google, is a fraud. The action against Local Lighthouse is a shot across the bows against companies that apparently take Google's name in vain and promise the impossible.

In the UK, the Information Commissioner's Office has taken action against nuisance callers, including one that was cold calling to sell cold-calling blockers.

One call-center boss told El Reg that although he'd not tried using robo-cold-callers, he was told by colleagues that automated systems are very effective, albeit less effective than a call center with real people. However, computers making pre-recorded calls appear to be more effective on a cost-for-cost basis.

He told us:

Opt-in [for cold calls] is a very vague term, but it means that someone has signed up for something (a Tesco card, for example) and not specifically asked for third-party calls to be excluded. So opt-in is actually a failure to opt out.

Many people believe that registering with TPS will avoid calls. Opt-in calls do not need to be cleared against the TPS database. The law's a mess.

Many companies will ignore the above rules and call random numbers or any data they can get their hands on. They will also often give misleading messages and withhold or fake CLI.

Our call-center pal does, however, think that there is a place for such direct selling:

If somehow we could get rid of these companies whilst keeping the honest ones, the process would be much more accepted.

The Google case may set a precedent for California, but while the UK communications watchdog Ofcom ran a consultation, we've not seen any plans for the Blighty. ®

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