After to-ing and fro-ing since 2007 over responsibility for misleading or deceptive advertising on Google sites in Australia, the web giant looks to have won its battle against the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) in a unanimous decision by the High Court.
The High Court yesterday unanimously upheld Google Inc’s appeal to a judgment of the Full Federal Court back in April 2012 which found that Google had contravened the Trade Practices Act 1974 by allowing advertisements to appear on its sites that engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct, and it puts an end to the five-year-long battle.
As a result of the decision, the ACCC will now ponder the High Court’s judgement to better understand whether it has broader ramifications and will consider any consequences for enforcement of Australian Consumer Law, says chairman Rod Sims.
“The ACCC took these proceedings to clarify the law relating to advertising practices in the internet age,” he says. “Specifically, we considered that providers of online content should be accountable for misleading or deceptive conduct when they have significant control over what is delivered.”
Sims is of the knowledge that the High Court only analysed one key element when upholding the appeal, and believes more angles need to be addressed in order to avoid future grey areas. “The High Court’s decision focused only on Google’s conduct,” says Sims, alluding to the fact that the accountability of the organisation was not put under the spotlight.
Looking back, it appears as though the High Court has mirrored part of the the sentiment of the Federal Court by stating that Google was “merely communicating” the representations (advertisement) without adopting or endorsing any of them.
As a way to defend itself from the charges back in 2007, Google has since released a Business Names Policy which prohibits advertisers’ use of unrelated registered business names in the first line of ad text, when they are using that registered business name to imply affiliation, partnership or any special relationship with any unrelated third party.
This policy was initially applied by Google in Australia and New Zealand but was later expanded, and welcomed by the ACCC, to apply to all countries in mid-July 2010, and by November Google made adjustments to the terminology it used surrounding advertising descriptions, changing the terminology on its search results pages from ‘Sponsored links’ to simply ‘Ads’.