A British couple who lost their business and had their entire lives turned upside down years ago by Google’s algorithm, finally received justice after putting up a fight against the tech giant for almost a decade. The court gave its verdict and ordered Alphabet, Google’s parent company, to pay $3 billion dollars in financial and emotional damages caused to the plaintiffs.
A Billion-Dollar Fine
The European Commissioner of Competition ruled that Google had unlawfully used its market dominance against a smaller company and it had 90 days to pay the $3 billion fine or face serious consequences. Adam and Shivaun Raff, who had watched the verdict on a live screen from their hotel room half a kilometer away, sighed in relief as their hard work had finally paid off.
Eight years ago, the pair brought their complaint to the European Commission, explaining that Google had been demoting their website called Foundem which helped users compare prices of different products and services across the internet. Raffs were the first plaintiffs in the history to have filed a lawsuit against the tech giant – and won.
Decade-Old Legal Feud
Despite the large sum of money won through the lawsuit, there is no celebration for the Raffs who are simply glad that the fight is over and justice has been served. For them, their entire lives were turned upside down after Google destroyed their business eleven years ago.
The couple has been campaigning for justice ever since, and the case that been, both, financially and emotionally draining. 51-year-old Adam says that there were moments when he was tempted to back out of the campaign but the two kept pushing forward because it was the right thing to do.
The case began when the Raffs were living in their tiny home in Berkshire’s suburban village and dragged the tech giant all the way to the Federal Trade Commission in Washington. For eleven years, their lawyers have told them to be wary of what they say on and off-record which is why the couple has been treading with caution, scared that one wrong move could sabotage all the efforts they had made thus far.
Now that the Competition Commission has given its verdict, the two have finally decided to break their silence on the high-profile legal feud and tell their story about how they took on the biggest tech company in the world – and won.
A Brilliant Business Idea
When Raffs created their company in 2005, their website was offering a service that no other platform was able to provide – not even google. Adam came up with the idea of using vast database of website which sold products and services and narrowed the search to match the users’ preferences. The Raffs already had well-paying jobs before they stumbled upon the clever idea for their website. So Shivaun and Adam put their heads together to come up with a plan to start their successful business.
The two eventually quit their jobs and started working on their brainchild, Foundem, with Shivaun acting as the company’s CEO. But within a few days of the website’s launch, Google had found a way to close down their business.
It was due a new algorithm in 2006 that targeted and downgraded spam websites that used unoriginal content. Foundem also became a victim of the algorithm which penalized the website for almost every search made. As a result, the new website was downgraded from its no.3 position – close to Yahoo and Bing – all the way to the 80th rank.
A website which had tremendous potential to become one of the most popular search engines – even bigger than Google itself – had suddenly been wiped off the internet completely. It was Adam’s worst nightmare. The two tried contacting Google regarding the issue they were less than helpful. After trying and failing to communicate with the tech giant, the Raffs had to find a new source of income. They eventually turned Foundem into a software and sold it off to IPC Media.
Internet Neutrality Affecting Small Businesses
Adam says that Google’s real fault wasn’t with the algorithm, but with their inability to communicate with them to fix an issue which costed website owners millions of dollars. That is when Adam decided that they wanted to go to war against the giant which had bullied smaller businesses for far too long and destroyed other businesses to promote their personal agenda.
The two finally saw a glimmer of hope in winning the case when the Competition Commission told them that they were interested in taking up their case. For Adam, it was no longer a personal battle, they were fighting for every business that Google had tried to crush. Despite winning the case, Adam says that he is fearful that complexity of algorithms used by search engines and hosting platforms were too obscure. He believes that internet is losing its neutrality over time which is disastrous for new comers in the industry who are struggling to survive in a sea full of giant sharks.