Google has recently been sued by the Federal Court of Australia for misleading advertising on its Google AdWords platform. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission successfully sued Google, with its $830 million a year AdWords business, for breach of section 52 of the Trade Practices Act.
The breach in question relates to false advertising. At least four advertisements were noted by the court for being titled one thing and directing the user to another. In at least these four instances, an advertising company has been piggybacking off the well-established name of one company in order to promote itself.
These four companies using the system in a deceptive manner were not necessarily not-well-known companies. STA Travel had posted an advertisement posing as Harvey World Travel, CarSales had an advertisement titled Honda.com.au, and the Trading Post website was linked to from Just 4x4s Magazine.
The court blamed the deception on Google, justices saying that Google should “implement a compliance program” and that Google had “engaged in conduct that was misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead”. The court had originally dismissed the claim in September of last year, but has since revised its decision.
Google said it was “disappointed” by the decision and decided to lay the blame with the advertisers themselves, stating “we believe that advertisers should be responsible for the ads they create on the AdWords platform”.
Who is in the wrong here? Is it Google for allowing the platform to host such deceptive advertisements, or is it the advertisers themselves? Perhaps an analogy with a traditional advertising medium is appropriate here. Is a newspaper to blame if someone registers an advertisement using a well-established name, but provides their own telephone number instead of the phone of the well known business? The difference here is that it is possible for Google to instantly verify the advertised content by collecting metadata from the page that the advertisement links to, however, this would require some amount of resources, even if tiny. Google is “disappointed” because it now forces them to spend resources on verifying advertisements before they are posted.
As the Internet Revolution continues onwards, some questions clearly need to be re-asked.