Australia's Federal Court has found that some Google ads are misleading and deceptive, overturning a previous ruling that the search giant is not responsible for dodgy ads its advertisers create.
The case centered on advertisers who bought keywords and created ads using rivals' names. Travel agency STA Travel, for example, bought ads that appeared when Google users searched for rival travel agency Harvey World Travel. The copy for some of those ads mentioned Harvey World Travel, but the embedded links sent users to the STA Travel website. Several other companies indulged in similar practices.
Australia's consumer watchdog, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC), has pursued Google through the courts for several years over this kind of advertising, arguing that it is unfair to consumers and to business misrepresented by their rivals.
The Federal Court agreed with that proposition today, saying that consumers would assume that there is an association or affiliation between the two travel agencies and that information about Harvey World Travel could be found on the STA travel website. That, the court says (in a ruling available at Scribd), means Google misled and deceived the general public.
Google must now institute a compliance program to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen any more.
In a statement issued after the judgement, ACCC Chair Rod Sims said the body “... brought this appeal because it raises very important issues as to the role of search engine providers as publishers of paid content in the online age” and declared the win “an important outcome because it makes it clear that Google and other search engine providers which use similar technology to Google will be directly accountable for misleading or deceptive paid search results.”
Google Australia sees things differently and has said it already checks for this kind of misleading ad and removes offending examples. The company also says it feels it is unfair it is held responsible for advertisers' actions.
Australia's High Court is the only avenue of appeal beyond the Federal Court. Google has not yet said if it will appeal but is considering its options. ®