Structure of Search Engine Law, The

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet and Search and Advertising

Article Snapshot


James Grimmelmann


Iowa Law Review, Vol. 93, No. 1, 2007


This article attempts to set out a structure by which future legal issues involving search engines can be analyzed.

Policy Relevance

As search engines continue to become a more important and predominant part of the Internet they will also become larger legal targets, both for private suits and for public regulation. Thus, an overarching scheme by which these legal issues can be analyzed will be necessary.

Main Points

  • Search engines have become an integral part of public information flow and Internet use. However, the legal impact of these important players in the Internet is still largely unknown.
  • Information flow on search engines generally impacts one or more of the following parties: search engines themselves, search engine users, information providers, and/or third parties seeking access to the information gathered by the search engine about their users.
  • Information provided by search engines generally falls into one of four categories, each of which has its own user and provider:

    • Indexing, through which a search engine determines what content is available for searching by users.
    • User searches about specific topics.
    • The results list returned to the user.
    • The content provided by sites that users were directed to via the search engine.
  • Many search engines derive their profit through advertisements returned alongside their search results. Conflict between the search engine provider and the user arises because users want high-quality results without sacrificing too much of their privacy.
  • Up until this point, little work has been done to create a united legal theory as it relates to search engines and the possible legal complications that they might create.
  • The tension between providers and users, the power of search engines to promote or infringe upon user privacy, and the role of search engines in enhancing free speech will continue to become more important as the legal doctrine in this field develops. 

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