Google Wins Landmark Aussie Court Fight on Advertising: Reports

An Australian court ruled Google isn't responsible for sponsored links during searches of Web content. The ruling could have impacts in other nations.

Google's win in an Australian courtroom could have far-reaching impact in the mobile advertising space for the search engine giant.

An Australian court ruled in favor of Google by saying the company didn't mislead online users through its ad sponsored-links and that Google can't be held liable for messages contained in online ads.

The ruling, by Australia's High Court, allows Internet providers and search engines to say they are not publishers but rather just carriers of information that third parties provide, according to a Feb. 6 report by Reuters.

Similar cases have arisen against Google in other nations around the world, and the Australian court rulings could certainly now be viewed with some weight in those cases.

"Others will definitely be looking at this ruling," Peter Lee, head of Australia's Internet Industry Association, told Reuters. "Google is a worldwide business. This is something of a first, and it does add some clarity for the industry."

The decision came after a six-year legal battle in Australia, reported Reuters.

Google had been accused by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), a consumer watchdog group, of misleading and deceiving search users by displaying paid sponsor ads for competing products when users would search for a specific brand or product, according to the report.

The Australian High Court's decision overturned a previous lower court ruling that had gone against Google on the allegations.

Ultimately, the High Court apparently agreed with Google's position that it was not responsible for the ads because it was only a means of distribution for the advertiser, according to Reuters.

"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," the court stated in its decision.

The Australian court rulings come a little more than a month after Google won a related huge court decision in the United States in early January. In that case, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission resolved an antitrust probe in Google's favor by passing on a federal probe and entering into a voluntary agreement with Google to change some of its business practices to resolve the complaints of some competitors about the company's conduct.

Charles King, principal IT analyst for Pund-IT, told eWEEK that he agrees that the Australian court case could certainly impact other such cases around the globe.

"Google claimed it was simply a conduit for the ads," said King. "Opponents said Google is a publisher and is responsible for the content of its ads."

The company's point of view is that it can't be held accountable for everything advertisers do, he said.

King said he agrees with the court's decision in siding with Google in the matter, but added that the company needs to step back and take a bigger picture look over how it is perceived in the marketplace.

"We're only 10-plus years into the online commerce revolution, so I think it would behoove Google to be as transparent as possible about what it is doing," King said. "As a world leader in worldwide advertising, Google is in a position to set the bar for advertisers and consumers for what they should provide and expect in their online e-commerce experiences."