Search engine cheats risk jail

Metatags are keywords embedded in the code of websites, that are used by some search engines when ranking the results of search criteria.

Metatag bending is when, for example, company ‘A’ steals traffic from competitor ‘B’ by including B’s name and trademarks in the metatags of its website. When a customer types in B’s name in a search engine the results throw up A’s site and can divert traffic away.

Metatag bending cost UK management data systems firm Mandata £15,000 in damages plus £80,000 in costs after being found guilty of trademark infringement in May this year.

Jonathan Armstrong, internet ecommerce expert at law firm Eversheds, said: ‘Most people we see had no idea it was happening because they outsourced website design.’

‘The message is clear – watch what you put in your metatags and watch what your competitors put in theirs,’ added Armstrong, who carries out risk assessment audits of ebusinesses to gauge their liability to internet fraud.

The consequences for businesses found guilty of trademark infringement are at least large fines. In extreme cases, although this is unlikely according to Armstrong, it can be a criminal offence with a custodial sentence.

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