Yesterday, Australia’s highest judicial body, called The High Court of Australia, overturned a lower court decision that held Google responsible for paid-search ads deemed deceptive by Australia’s antitrust regulator, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC).
According to Bloomberg, roughly six years ago the ACCC sued Google claiming that certain travel-related ads appearing in search results were misleading or deceptive. The Commission sought to hold Google responsible for the content of those ads, relying on a pre-Internet decision finding a TV broadcaster responsible for the deceptive content of a television ad.
The lower court held accordingly that Google was the publisher of those ads and responsible for their content. The High Court of Australia disagreed:
By publishing or displaying those search results, Google was said to have contravened s 52 of the Act, which provided that a corporation shall not, in trade or commerce, engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive or is likely to mislead or deceive . . .
[The Full Court of the Federal Court] found that Google had itself engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct by publishing and displaying the sponsored links. By special leave, Google appealed to the High Court . . .
Google did not create the sponsored links that it published or displayed. 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 . . .
This decision brings Australian law into alignment with US law, wherein online publishers are not held liable for the content of ads that appear on their sites. The ACCC is now reportedly looking into whether and how this decision impacts other areas of enforcement.
Below is the full summary of the ruling issued by The High Court of Australia.