According to a recent Wall Street Journal report millions of business listings on Google Maps are fake, thanks to businesses seeking to drive call volume by posting made-up store and office locations. Google is reportedly overrun by false business addresses and names but is doing little to resolve the issue, since it also profits from the practice, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The ability for aggrieved consumers to pursue the thousands of disparate businesses engaging in this behavior is nil. Adding insult to injury, Google also escapes accountability under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S. Code § 230 (“CDA”). According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Section 230 is a common defense for internet service providers.
The CDA provides that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.” CDA at (c)(1). It also preempts state laws to the contrary: “[n]o cause of action may be brought and no liability may be imposed under any State or local law that is inconsistent with this section.” CDA at (e)(3). An “information content provider” is “any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.” CDA at (f)(3).
Here, the third party entities creating the false map listings would qualify as “another information content provider.” This means Google is immune unless a complainant can show that Google was knowingly creating or facilitating a conspiracy to create the false listings, since the CDA does not apply to content that an interactive service provider “developed or created entirely by itself.” See e.g., Anthony v. Yahoo! Inc.
At the same time, U.S. antitrust officials are reportedly preparing an antitrust probe of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., for illegal abuse of monopoly power. Will Google’s apparent ability to turn a blind eye to millions of false map listings and not lose market share be relevant to that inquiry? That remains to be seen.
Jennifer M. Oliver is a Partner with MoginRubin LLP where her practice focuses on antitrust, complex business disputes, and investment litigation. Jennifer’s experience includes active roles in several high-profile jury trials, serving as lead counsel in complex mediations, and arguing before courts at both the trial and appellate levels. In addition to her merger and cartel work, Jennifer has also litigated trade secrets, RICO conspiracies, securities fraud, unfair trade practices, breaches of contract and privacy cases. Read more.