Australian Court Finds Google Responsible For Misleading Ads Placed By Its Advertisers

A Federal Appeals Court in Australia has found Google responsible for misleading ads that displayed when users searched for certain terms and received ads from competitors who had bid on those terms.

The ruling, though it only applies in Australia, is important because one of Google’s most central beliefs — which has come up in legal cases again and again — is that it is solely a publisher of content and advertisements, rather than the author of that content, and should therefore not be responsible for what appears on its pages.

The plaintiff in the case is the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a consumer protection agency. Originally, Google had not been found responsible, but, on appeal, the Full Federal Court overturned the earlier ruling.

Is Google Just A Publisher, Or Does It Hold Responsibility For Content?

“The ACCC brought this appeal because it raises very important issues as to the role of search engine providers as publishers of paid content in the online age,” said ACCC chairman Rod Smith. The Court ordered Google to develop a program to comply with consumer law and to pay ACCC’s court costs.

At issue is who is responsible for the advertisements when Google displays them. is it Google, because its algorithm controls what displays when? Or is it the advertiser, who chooses the keywords associated with its ads?

The primary judge had originally found that, although the ads were misleading or deceptive, Google had not made the misleading or deceptive representations. Google merely communicated representations made by the advertiser.

What’s Critical Is The Triggering Of The Link

But now, the Full Federal Court is saying that’s not the case. It’s holding Google responsible as if it made the representations itself. In its ruling, the Court said, “the enquiry is made of Google and it is Google’s response which is misleading… Although the key words are selected by the advertiser, perhaps with input by Google, what is critical to the process is the triggering of the link by Google using its algorithms.”

In a statement, Google has said it’s reviewing its options:

“We are disappointed by the Federal Court’s decision that Google should be responsible for the content of four particular ads on its platform. Google AdWords is an ads hosting platform, and we believe that advertisers should be responsible for the ads they create on the AdWords platform. We’re committed to providing an advertising platform that benefits both advertisers and users. We investigate complaints about violations of our policies and terms and conditions, and if we are notified of an ad violating our terms and conditions we will remove it. We are currently reviewing our options in light of the court’s decision.”

Google’s Terms and Conditions for Australia say that the customer “is solely responsible for all: (a) ad targeting options and keywords (collectively “Targets”) and all ad content, ad information, and ad URLs (“Creative”), whether generated by or for Customer…”

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Google: Legal | Top News


About The Author: is Executive Features Editor at Search Engine Land and Marketing Land. She’s a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since 1998.

Connect with the author via: Email | Twitter | Google+ | LinkedIn


Get all the top search stories emailed daily!  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. Comments may also be removed if they are posted from anonymous accounts. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Arnaud Fischer

    As for PAID advertising: forget everything I just mentioned re. ORGANIC. YES, Google monetizing content going against local existing brand and trademark protection laws is wrong. 
    As far as ORGANIC: I would stick to the Digital Communication Act passed by the US Congress in 2000, otherwise Google and other search engines become responsible for all the crazy content out there. Not allowing Google and other search engines to point, ie link, to content would kill information retrieval, ie computational linguistic, innovation in a huge way. And regulated that freedom to some extent re. copyright infringement, hate speech, child pornography, violence … is a good thing.

  • KarlBrown

    Regardless of what anyone thinks of this Google is just another company operating in Australia and is therefore required to abide by Australian law, just like everyone else does.  US law is interesting but ultimately irrelevant.  

    Brings back memories of their You Tube incident in Italy where they disobeyed an Italian judge’s directive to remove a video posted by a user, as required by Italian law.  Here’s Google trying to argue why their policies are more important than the laws of a country  

    It astounds me that Google cannot grasp the fact that, good for the web (IE, good for Google profits) or not, they still need to abide by the law like I do and everyone else does.  Sure, lobby for change when it makes sense but if you choose to ignore it (as in Italy) then be big boys and girls and don’t complain when you get a slap.

  • Glenn Younger

    Directories such as Google, Bing and the YP’s who are allowed to monetize company names as Ad Words, should also make sure that those paid search listings are also used in a legal manner.  Since they are serving them up, they are involved.  

    It’s time for us to demand that directories take responsibility for their actions.  I’d prefer that they  police themselves, but if they choose not to, then they get into the court system.  False advertising and bait and switch is illegal in the United States.  

    When you are selling my company name as an Ad Word, I want you to see that it is used in a legal manner.  The bait and switch on Company Name Ad Words is evil, and facilitated by those selling and serving up the paid ad word results.  Come on Google, don’t be evil.   

    As Mike Ditka would say:   “STOP IT!”

  • Locksmith Charley

    Google, Yahoo, et. al. (the search engines) actively permit CRIMINAL SCAMMERS to “Mass REVIEW” themselves. They also facilitate the saturation of the internet by CRIMINAL SCAMMERS (including but not limited to: Locksmiths, Plumbers, Carpet Cleaners, Garage Door Repair companies – almost any “service related” industry)

    Please see for more information on the Locksmith Scammers.

    The U.S. Congress passed the “CDA” COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT to protect CHILDREN from PORNOGRAPHY.

    The courts have permitted GOOGLE, YAHOO!, and others to PERVERT their intent to protect CHILDREN instead to protect multi-billion dollar corporations from suits where they (the search engines)  should be culpable for permitting information that they KNOW (or should know) to be fraudulent to be disseminated to the public with ZERO filtering or fact checking.

    Locksmith suppliers and “Legitimate Locksmiths” in Arizona believe that there are between 300-500 “Legitimate” locksmith companies in Arizona.

    I have, by a subpoena, acquired from ACXIOM (a company that provides, Google, Yahoo, and others, ACXIOM’s “collection” of locksmith listings for the state of Arizona. That “collection” is 196 pages long and contains nearly 9,600 records, some NINE THOUSAND of which are 100% BOGUS. ACXIOM claims they are doing nothing wrong by contributing to the saturation of the internet with CRIMINALLY BOGUS LISTINGS.  (A.R.S. 44-1221)

    Former legislative manager of the Associated Locksmiths of America, Tim McMullen is quoted as saying ” Of the 288,000 consumers that call a locksmith every day, 80% or 225,000 don’t realize they have called a phony locksmith until its too late.

    Anyone victimized by a PHONY, bogus, ghost, or whatever word you want to put in front of the word “Locksmith” to describe a scammer is invited to fill out the consumer victim form on

    I wish everyone a BLESSED DAY and I especially wish that the CEO’s of Google, Yahoo!, Local, and all of the other search engines and companies such as ACXIOM that provide the phony information are expecially blessed with the wisdom to change their ways. Preferably before more “Legit” locksmiths have to go bankrupt, lost their homes, and/or move their children in with extended families as has happened with at least 3 other owners that I know perwsonally.

    Charles “Locksmith Charley” Eastwood, CRL
    Member of Associated Locksmiths of America.

Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Search Engine Land on Twitter @sengineland Like Search Engine Land on Facebook Follow Search Engine Land on Google+ Get the Search Engine Land Feed Connect with Search Engine Land on LinkedIn Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Search News Recap!

SearchCap is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!



Search Engine Land Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors

Get Your Copy
Read The Full SEO Guide