Today, Google won its final long-running legal battle with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) over in-search advertising. What does that mean if you want to use Google AdWords to advertise your business?
In 2012, the search giant was found guilty of deceptive conduct in Australia via its Google AdWords advertising product. The open platform service, which is the company’s main source of revenue, offers various pay-per-click advertising models as well as site-targeted advertising for text, banner and rich-media ads.
The key to Google AdWords’ success is that it allows businesses to create, manage and adjust their own advertising campaigns on the fly to match online trends. However, this also leaves it open to exploitation, which is where the ACCC's court case came in.
In the previous verdict, the Full Federal Court found Google had willfully deceived consumers by redirecting them through mislabelled sponsored search results. This decision has now been successfully appealed by Google at the High Court.
In its ruling, the High Court found that Google was not responsible for sponsored links that it did not create. Therefore, it did not engage in conduct that was misleading or deceptive and cannot be held responsible for misleading ads posted on the platform.
“Ordinary and reasonable users of the Google search engine would have understood that the representations conveyed by the sponsored links were those of the advertisers, and would not have concluded that Google adopted or endorsed the representations,” the High Court ruled in a statement.
So what does today’s decision mean for companies that use the platform? In short, it’s business as usual. On the back of its High Court victory, Google’s existing terms and conditions are unlikely to change in any meaningful way for the foreseeable future. (Naturally, Google still has the power to remove any ads that violate its AdWords policy.)
However, this doesn’t mean you’re safe from the ACCC; far from it in fact. The High Court ruling essentially means the watchdog will be forced to pursue companies individually — a situation Google fully supports.
“Google AdWords is an ad hosting platform, and we believe that advertisers should be responsible for the ads they create on the AdWords platform,” a Google spokesperson stated.
The ruling is not hugely dissimilar to the infamous iiNet vs. AFACT court case, which found internet service providers were not responsible for the actions of their customers. Moving forward, we wouldn't be surprised if the ACCC refocused its efforts on advertisers that use AdWords in a misleading manner.
In other words, it might be a good idea to review the ACCC's guidelines to honest advertising and selling practices, just to be sure.
As for regular web surfers, legal experts are blasting the ruling as a major loss to consumer rights. (You can read more legal commentary here.)