Australia court rules Google violated consumer protection laws

[JURIST] The full Federal Court of Australia [official website] ruled Tuesday that Google Inc. [corporate website] engaged in advertising practices that were deceptive and misleading, resulting in a violation of the country's consumer protection laws. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) [official website] brought the case against Google challenging an advertising practice where advertisements were generated that indicated that by clicking on the link the user would be led to information about a competitor, but actually linked to the advertiser's website. The full court's ruling followed a lower court decision which found that Google did not violate the country's consumer protection laws in the 11 advertisements identified by the ACCC. The ACCC appealed [press release] the lower court's ruling on four of the contested advertisements. According to the full court, the advertising practice was likely to deceive or mislead consumers searching for information on the competitor, in violation of Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act of 1974 [text, PDF]. Google was ordered by the court to put in place a consumer compliance program, and the pay the ACCC's cost of the appeal. ACCC chairman Rod Simms indicated that this was an important ruling for protecting consumers stating, "[t]his is an important outcome because it makes it clear that Google and other search engine providers which use similar technology to Google will be directly accountable for misleading or deceptive paid search results." Google representatives have indicated that they are disappointed by the court's ruling, and that they believe advertisers should be held responsible [WSJ report] for the content of their advertising.

Google is also facing both international and national criticism over its privacy policy. Last month, a Japanese court ordered Google to remove certain search terms [JURIST report] that a Japanese man claimed violated his privacy, by suggesting his name in connection with crimes he did not commit. Also last month, the Commission Nationales de l'Informatque (CNIL) [official website], France's data protection regulator, gave Google three weeks to answer questions [JURIST report] about its new privacy policy [text] as part of a Europe-wide investigation on behalf of all European data protection regulators. The new policy, which took effect earlier in March, may violate European law [JURIST report] according to the EU's Justice Commissioner Vice-President Viviane Reding [official website]. In February, a judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed [JURIST report] a suit from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [advocacy website], a consumer privacy group, asking the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] to block Google's proposed privacy policy changes. The new policy allows a user's information to be shared among different Google products, including YouTube, Gmail, and Google Maps.

 

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