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Google At Mercy Of ACCC

The Full Federal Court yesterday unanimously upheld the Competition and Consumer Commission’s appeal against Google in a row over four ads, which the watchdog claimed were misleading, which dates back to 2007.

The Court declared that the Internet giant, by publishing the four advertisements on the result pages of its Google Australia website, engaged in conduct that was “misleading or deceptive, or likely to mislead or deceive.”

The offending ads were related to Harvey World Travel, Honda, Just 4X4 Magazine and Alpha Dog and appeared to make it difficult for consumers to differentiate between sponsored links and search results.

The ads were also in breach of section 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974, said the three judge panel comprising Chief Justice Patrick Anthony Keane Justice Peter Jacobson, Justice Bruce Thomas Lander.

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The Court ordered it to put in place a “consumer law compliance programme” and pay the ACCC’s costs of the appeal, although they did not have to pay a fine.

“Google’s conduct involved the use by an advertiser of a competitors name as a keyword triggering an advertisement for the advertiser with a matching headline, which “was likely to mislead or deceive a consumer searching for information on the competitor,” Rod Sims, ACCC Chairman said.

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The case raises important issues as to the role of search engine providers as publishers of paid content in the online age, and now makes it clear that Google and other search engines will be “directly accountable for misleading or deceptive paid search results,” he added .

“Here Google created the message which it presents.It is Google’s technology which creates that which is displayed, ” the Federal Court concluded in its judgement.

“The enquiry is made of Google and it is Google’s response which is misleading… Although the key words are selected by the advertiser, perhaps with input by Google, what is critical to the process is the triggering of the link by Google using its algorithms.”