Google sued by restaurants over alleged deceptive online ordering practices

Signage at Google headquarters in Mountain View, California, U.S., Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022. Alphabet Inc. is expected to release earnings numbers on Feb. 1. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A restaurant group has filed a class action lawsuit against Google, alleging the tech giant used deceptive online ordering practices for profit.

The lawsuit was filed by Left Field Holdings LLC, a Florida-based franchisee of six “Lime Fresh Mexican Grill” restaurants, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California earlier this month.

Left Field Holdings LLC accused Google of “deliberately misleading consumers by using restaurant class members’ trade names and reputations without their permission.”

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According to the complaint, when a customer wants to order food and uses Google to search for a restaurant, the tech giant directs them to an unauthorized digital “storefront” or pop-up webpage owned and controlled by Google.”

The complaint further stated that Google designed the web pages to feature the restaurants’ trade names, tricking customers into thinking they were on a website owned by the restaurant. Google then uses the webpages to capture food orders and sell them to online delivery platforms such as Postmates, DoorDash and Grubhub, according to court documents.

The lawsuit further alleged that Google never obtained permission to use the restaurants’ trade names, depriving the restaurants of customer relationships and forcing the companies to shell out “substantial fees paid to delivery platforms (up to 30 %) for each order that Google routes to a delivery provider.” Lawyers for Left Field Holdings said a portion of those fees went to Google.

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“If consumers had placed orders directly with restaurants, restaurants would have avoided or reduced delivery platform fees,” the lawyers said in a press release.

“The restaurant industry has already been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Online ordering has served as a lifeline to help them reach customers, earn a low profit and continue to employ members of their staff,” said attorney Jason Zweig of the Kelle Lenkner law firm. . “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.”

“Restaurants need to make a profit to stay in business. But Google’s deceptive web pages divert orders and customers away from restaurants and into a process that benefits Google, but not the restaurants,” added attorney Tim Sperling of Sperling & Slater.

Google is accused of violating the Lanham Act, a law prohibiting trademark infringement, brand dilution and false advertising.

Google has responded to the ongoing lawsuit.

“Our goal is to connect customers to the restaurants they want to order food from and make it easy for them through the ‘Order Online’ button,” a Google spokesperson told FOX TV stations. “We provide tools for merchants to indicate whether they support online ordering or prefer a specific vendor, including their own ordering website. We receive no compensation for orders or integrations with this feature We dispute the errors in characterization of our product and will vigorously defend ourselves.”

This story was reported from Los Angeles.

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