An Australian court has today ruled that Google was responsible for “misleading and deceptive” advertisements that appear on its web pages as part of search results.
The dominant search engine in the Australian market was found guilty of four breaches of Australia’s Trade Practices Act, in a case brought by the country’s consumer watchdog.
It is the first claim of its kind in the world, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
After examining four cases of misleading search results, the court ruled that the Mountain View search giant should be held responsible for paid advertisements appearing through its “AdWords” platform, reports Reuters.
Google had previously won a court ruling on the subject in September last year, but three of Australia’s Federal Court judges unanimously overturned that decision today on appeal by the ACCC.
In 2006 and 2007, Google searches for CarSales website, Harvey World Travel, Alpha Dog Training and Just 4X4 Magazine produced adverts that led customers to competitors’ websites. This happened because the advertisers used the names of competitors as keywords to have their own content appear. The court ruled this was likely to mislead people searching for information.
In its defence, Google argued it was not responsible for the confusing search results as it was just providing a platform for advertisers, just like a classified ad section in a newspaper. A company spokesman said in a statement that Google was “disappointed” by the ruling, and was “reviewing its options” in light of the decision.
The ACCC said the ruling meant that not only Google but also other Internet search engines would now be held responsible for “deceptive paid search results”.
The section of the law that Google breached does not impose a fine, but the court ordered the company to set up a compliance program to ensure paid advertisements on its search engine did not mislead consumers in the future.
“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,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims in a statement.
Last month, Google had already announced changes to its advertising system which should decrease the number of links leading to nasty websites selling counterfeit goods or spreading malware.
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