Written by Nick Heer.

Rumble’s Antitrust Lawsuit Against Google Will Proceed to Discovery

In January last year, the Canadian video hosting platform Rumble sued Google (PDF) alleging violations of antitrust law. Google obviously attempted to get the lawsuit dismissed but the judge denied that request (PDF).

Dan Frieth, Reclaim the Net:

Rumble is one of YouTube’s most significant competitors. Founded in 2013, it has grown rapidly over the past few years because it upholds free speech, while YouTube has been heavily censoring content, positioning itself as the arbiter of truth while banning, deleting, and demonetizing videos that go against certain narratives.

As with so many other “free speech” alternatives to mainstream social networks, this claim is untrue. Rumble prohibits videos that are “grossly offensive to the online community, including but not limited to, racism, anti-semitism and hatred”, videos that are supportive of either Antifa or the KKK — apparently equals in the eyes of whomever wrote the site’s terms and conditions — and videos that could harm others’ reputation. Rumble also prohibits users from linking to websites that would violate these terms.

But go on:

By filing the lawsuit, Rumble hoped that there will be free and fair competition so that people can find videos uploaded on YouTube’s competitors. The suit alleges that Google uses its dominance in search and manipulates its algorithms to prevent users from finding videos on YouTube’s competitors.

The WSJ once said its reporters tested how the system works to discover that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, highly similar versions of videos ranked better if they appeared on YouTube.

Regardless of whining about moderation on platforms like YouTube and Facebook — moderation that, as acknowledged by many including Rumble itself, has sowed the seeds of potential competitors — this lawsuit is actually a little interesting. Rumble’s argument is a well-worn one: its links appear too far down on Google’s search results page, even when the search query is highly relevant to a Rumble page.

Google’s search rankings are based on a couple hundred signals, but one of the best-known is the number of external websites linking to a particular domain. The quality and relevance of those linking websites also matter. Google does not see it as particularly meaningful if a spammy WordPress site that republishes articles from the Verge has a link back to this domain, for example, but it does see a link back from the Verge itself as a positive signal.

I ran Rumble’s domain through the free trial of a few well-known SEO utilities, including Semrush and SerpStat. They indicated Rumble is most often linked to by websites like Patriots.win — the Reddit clone created after /r/the_donald was shuttered for frequent and widespread abuse — and conspiracy theory sites like Rense.com. (That is a link to the Rational Wiki article about Rense; I would not want to subject you, reader, to the site itself.) These are not high-quality links to a website that is attempting to compete with YouTube, the world’s second most popular domain.

With that kind of information, it is easy to see why Rumble videos are often outranked by YouTube ones. YouTube has billions of external individual links pointed at it; SerpStat says Rumble has about four million, and they are frequently from bad sources. Why would Google point people toward a place often cited by cranks and charlatans, and rarely by authoritative sources? But it is hard to know how much this effect is attributable to so-called “organic” signals, and how much can be ascribed to Google’s alleged self-preferencing.

I do not expect many revelations in this trial; many of those have been revealed through yet-unproven accusations in other cases. But I am curious to see if Google artificially juices the position of its own products as has been repeatedly been alleged of doing. Even if Google is prioritizing its own products, Rumble must also argue it is somehow entitled to a higher search results ranking, even though it has issued several press releases touting its massive popularity.