Google found guilty of serving misleading ads in Australia

An Australian court has ruled for the first time that Google’s responsible for advertisers’ content.

Three federal judges overturned a ruling from last year that Google couldn’t be brought to account over its advertisers’ breaches of Australia’s Trade Practices Act.

The case hinged on AdWords, and four advertisers that used the names of competitors as keywords to trigger their own ads to appear. The court ruled that this was misleading; but Google claimed the advertisers were responsible, not itself.

The case was brought by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).

“As the Full Court said this was likely to mislead or deceive a consumer searching for information on the competitor,” says ACCC chairman Rod Sims.

“This is 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.”

The court ruled that, while the advertisers were responsible for coming up with the misleading keywords in the first place, Google was also responsible.

“It is Google’s technology which creates that which is displayed. Google did not merely repeat or pass on a statement by the advertiser: what is displayed in response to the user’s search query is not the equivalent of Google saying here is a statement by an advertiser which is passed on for what it is worth,” the court ruled.

“The enquiry is made of Google and it is Google’s response which is misleading.”

As the ACCC points out, the judgement will have implications for other search engine providers too. While there’s no fine for this particular offence, Google’s been ordered to pay the ACCC’s costs and to implement a compliance program.