Google off the hook but small biz must take care with Adwords

Tuesday 5 February, 2013
The High Court today sided with internet giant Google over whether it breached consumer protection legislation by allowing misleading and deceptive ads to run as sponsored links in its search results.
 
The court found that Google was not responsible for checking whether the advertisers who paid for sponsored links were being honest about their businesses, or the search terms they used.
 
Although Google was found not be engaging in unlawful conduct by allowing the questionable ads to run, those paying for the ads need to ensure that they are not misleading or deceptive.
 
The examples examined by the High Court, and the Federal Court before it, included sponsored links bought by STA Travel. When a Google user searched for "Harvey World Travel", ads for STA appeared.
 
Harvey World Travel is a major competitor to STA, and STA added the search term "Harvey World Travel" to their Google AdWords account, for inclusion in the sponsored links they bought.
 
Another business, the motor ads site carsales.com.au, listed the keyword "honda.com.au" in their AdWords account, so when a user Googled that address, ads for carsales.com.au would appear.
 
Also, the dog training website dogtrainingaustralia.com.au included their competitor's name "Alpha Dog Training" in their keywords, which showed an ad for dogtrainingaustralia.com.au when Googled.
 
Finally, tradingpost.com.au included the keywords "just 4x4s magazine", so an ad for the Trading Post website showed when someone searched for a rival vehicle sales site Just 4x4s magazine.
 
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission went after Google as the publisher of the ads in question, and the ACCC won in the Federal Court, but lost on appeal in the High Court.
 
If you have any queries about your responsibilities under the Australian Consumer Law, navigate to www.consumerlaw.gov.au as a first step, and consider legal advice if you have more specific questions.
 
Read more about the judgment here at the AFR.  See here for the judgment summary.
 
Consult the Google Adwords trademark policy here.
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