Accessibility Links

Google in-house lawyers win landmark Australian case

Posted by: Laurence Simons 06/02/13

Monolithic technology corporation Google's in-house lawyers have won a landmark case in Australia finding that they are not responsible for the content of third-party advertisements displayed in web searches, meaning they are in a similar position to newspapers or television networks when it comes to displaying content from other companies.

The six-year legal dispute has been followed closely internationally, because it had the potential to affect all publishers of ads that pass on or host third-party business.

However, the news that our benevolent overlords will be able to continue their soft domination of global information networks will no doubt be met with gratitude and relief. Rumours that Google's next move will be to insert third-party advertising into our dreams have yet to be denied.

Australia's High Court unanimously found Google did not engage in misleading or deceptive conduct because of the sponsored links thrown up by its eponymous search engine, suggesting that ordinary users of the service will have been able to use their discretion to understand that sponsored links were the work of advertisers rather than the company itself.

John Swinson, technology partner with law firm King & Wood Mallesons, told the Financial Times that this could set a precedent for companies in a similar position to Google.

"The High Court has clearly determined that Google is in a similar position to a television network or newspaper, and is not liable for the content of advertisements placed by its advertising customers, unless it can be proven that Google is more actively involved in the creation of the content," he explained.

In 2007, the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) started legal proceedings against Google by suggesting that people might be fooled into thinking their sponsored links were organically produced.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said the regulator had brought proceedings against the firm to clarify the law relating to advertising practices.

"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," he added.

However, in-house lawyers at Google are still facing claims that the company circumvented the security settings on iPhone, iPad and Mac devices using the Safari web browser, by installing cookies to allow user-targeted advertising through its DoubleClick ad network.

In the meantime, those with security concerns can always switch to using another well-known browser like Ask Jeeves, or go back to the old technique of throwing paper airplanes into the sky and hoping they'll come back with the answer written on them.