ACCC appeals Google court ruling

Comes after last month’s dismissal that Google had not engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has filed an appeal against a Federal Court decision that ruled in Google’s favour over advertisements in the internet giant’s search results.

The case, dating back to 2007, followed allegations made by the consumer watchdog that Google engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by displaying ads for the Trading Post website with headlines associated with unaffiliated businesses, and misled users by not making it clear that sponsored links were ads.

Justice John Nicholas last month rejected the claims. He ruled that despite several advertisements being misleading or deceptive, Google did not make those representations and had merely been the messenger between the advertiser and consumer, and therefore did not breach the Trade Practices Act 1974.

“The role of search engine providers as publishers of paid content needs to be closely examined in the online age,” ACCC chairperson, Rod Sims, said in a statement.

“Specifically, it is important that they are held directly accountable for misleading or deceptive paid search results when they have been closely engaged in presenting and publishing those results.

“It is very important that the law in this area is clarified and fully understood.”

In its original complaint, the ACCC said Google and the Trading Post violated sections 52 and 53 (d) of the Trade Practices Act 1974 in 2005 when business names “Kloster Ford” and “Charlestown Toyota” came up in the headline of Google sponsored links to the Trading Post’s website. Both businesses competed against the Trading Post in automotive sales.

This, according to the ACCC, showed Google failed to clearly distinguish sponsored links from “organic” search results.

At the time, the watchdog was seeking:

  • Declarations that the Trading Post contravened sections 52 and 53(d) of the Act;
  • Declarations that Google contravened section 52 of the Act;
  • Injunctions restraining the Trading Post from representing through sponsored links an association, sponsorship or affiliation with another business where one does not exist;
  • Injunctions restraining Google from publishing sponsored links of advertisers representing an association, sponsorship or affiliation where one does not exist;
  • Injunctions restraining Google from publishing search results that do not expressly distinguish advertisements from organic search results;
  • Orders that the Trading Post and Google implement trade practices compliance programs;
  • An order that Google publish a notice on its website outlining the above; and
  • Costs.

Follow Diana Nguyen on Twitter: @diananguyen9

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