Last week, we wrote about a lawsuit filed against Paxfire for supposedly teaming up with ISPs hijacking
browser searches for profit. The idea was that search terms never made it to the search engine in question, but rather automatically directed users to pages paid for by marketers. That is, if you searched for "Apple" via your browser search, rather than having that search Bing (if Bing is your search engine) for "Apple," it would automatically take you to an Apple page -- and the search would never even touch Bing. The story was based on a New Scientist story about some researchers highlighting these practices
and a class action lawsuit filed over the practices. New Scientist has updated the story to note that:
all the ISPs involved have now called a halt to the practice. They continue to intercept some queries – those from Bing and Yahoo – but are passing the searches on to the relevant search engine rather than redirecting them.
However, Paxfire's CEO sent us an email in which he not only refutes the entire story, but claims that he's planning to seek Rule 11 sanctions against the lawyers who filed the class action lawsuit:
This lawsuit is without merit, and harmful to our business and that of our partners. Let me respond to the two major accusations in the lawsuit.
"First, the lawsuit alleges that Paxfire collects, analyzes and sells user information. This is completely false and has absolutely no basis in fact.
"Paxfire does not and has never distributed or sold any information on users, either individually or collectively. Paxfire does not analyze end user searches, does not hold any history or database of user browsing or search, and does not profile users in any way. Moreover, Paxfire has no plans to change this policy. To repeat: We never, ever collect, monitor, store or sell personal data on users, collectively or as individuals, and we never have.
"Second, Paxfire does not hijack searches or 'impersonate search engines.'
"This would be fundamentally contrary to our service mission, which is to improve the user experience by helping users arrive at their intended website after having mistyped a web address. We are all about helping customers navigate the web, and not about searches. We partner closely with our ISP customers to ensure the service is operated not only in full accordance with the law and end user agreements, but also in a way that provides a good user experience. For example, when we have to guess the intended destination from a bad address, our results page includes an explanation of how they landed there and provides an option to opt-out of the service.
"Finally, we want to make clear that while it is without merit, this lawsuit and its allegations are extremely harmful to our reputation and those of our partners. Under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party has an obligation to ensure a foundation for his or her allegations. Clearly, this was not done adequately by the plaintiff in this case. Accordingly, Paxfire intends to seek the full sanctions available to it under the law, to vindicate the organization and to make it whole from the damages caused by this lawsuit.
It appears that they're saying they didn't hijack searches so much as hijack typo
searches, and they claim they do it nicely. I guess we'll find out the details as any lawsuit goes on, but I find it highly unlikely that even if Paxfire prevails that it will be able get Rule 11 sanctions. It's pretty rare for such sanctions to be used, and the conduct has to be pretty egregious.