“As of 2019, when a consumer searched for a particular restaurant using Google’s search engine and/or mapping interface, Google began intentionally hijacking the consumer away from the restaurant’s website, physical address and telephone number, and in a from two different websites owned and controlled by Google. ” – Complaint
The operators of several Fresh Mexican Grills with Lime Franchises have filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California on behalf of a national category of restaurants claiming that Google, LLC engaged in deceptive practices and misappropriation of their customer base and business names by directing consumers to pages operated by Google for online ordering and delivery.
the complaint explains that Google changed the way it displays restaurant search results in 2019, prompting customers to order through Google-designed buttons and order pages, thereby depriving restaurants of direct online orders. Instead, customers are tricked into ordering through delivery service providers with whom Google has a contract, which charge restaurants exorbitant fees, the complaint says.
As an example, the complaint explains that the delivery provider, Postmates, now owned by Uber Eats, charges contract restaurants between 6% and 30% of each order. The only motivation for restaurants to work with these services is to capture new customers who could possibly order directly from the restaurants. But in 2019, “Google began intentionally diverting the consumer from the restaurant’s website, physical address, and phone number, and to one of two different websites owned and controlled by Google,” the complaint says. . “These websites are misrepresented as being offered, sponsored or endorsed by plaintiffs and class members, when they are not.”
Google’s traditional search engine results page displays a “company information box” when a user searches for a particular company. In 2019, Google began featuring this box with a big blue “Order Online” button directly below the restaurant’s business name.
This button was invented and designed by Google without restaurant approval and was designed to be “larger, brighter, and more prominent than other buttons or links to the restaurant information box,” the complaint states. . Google does not disclose that the button is not affiliated with or endorsed by restaurants.
The Order Online button directs consumers to one of two different web pages, each bearing the restaurants’ trade names without their approval, in violation of section 43(a) of the Lanham Act. The first is an online “storefront”, where customers can order online through contracted delivery service providers and must use Google Pay to place their order.
The second web page that customers can be directed to is Google’s landing page, which displays restaurant information, followed by a list of delivery service providers to choose the order form.
While Google claims to have the right to use the restaurants’ trade names “due to an alleged transfer or delegation of such right by and through its relationship with the delivery providers to which it forwards its infringing orders”, the providers “are not authorized to create the restaurant-branded websites outside the proprietary platforms of the delivery service providers; and they do not have rights, in any case, extendable to third parties, such as Google,” the complaint states.
The restaurants seek monetary and injunctive relief, including class member damages and Google profits increased to up to three times actual damages.
Jason A. Zweig, a partner at Keller Lenkner, who represents the plaintiffs, said in a statement that Google’s practices pose a threat to an already struggling industry. “The restaurant industry has already been gutted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online ordering has served as a lifeline to help them reach customers, earn a slim profit and keep their staff members employed. It is appalling that Google is taking advantage of an industry going through such difficult times and through these deceptive and illegal practices, taking a portion of their hard-earned profits.
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