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Australia high court rules Google did not violate consumer protection laws

The High Court of Australia [official website] unanimously ruled [judgment; summary, PDF] on Wednesday that Google [corporate website] did not engage in misleading or deceptive conduct in violation of Section 52 of the Trade Practices Act of 1974 [text, PDF]. The ruling overturns a lower court ruling [JURIST report]. 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. On appeal, the High Court ruled that although the advertising practice was indeed misleading and deceptive, the representations were not made by Google, but rather by the advertisers. Google did not create the advertisements and was merely acting as a passive conduit for the advertisers. The High Court additionally stated that ordinary and reasonable users would not assume that Google had endorsed the representations made in the sponsored links. The ACCC stated [press release] that it will "will carefully review the judgment of the High Court to understand whether it has broader ramifications and will consider any consequences for enforcement of the Australian Consumer Law."

Google has already faced sharp opposition to its new policies around the world. In October European regulators urged Google to clarify [JURIST report] its privacy policy. In August Google agreed [JURIST report] to pay a record fine of $22.5 million to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) [official website] after being charged with tracking users' search histories and targeting ads to those users in violation of a previous privacy settlement. In March EU's Justice Commissioner Vice-President Viviane Reding [official website] declared that Google's new policy violated EU privacy laws [JURIST report], and EU data authorities voiced concern about the sharing and combination of personal data across services and its compliance with European data protection legislation [text]. Google has also faced criticism for its policy in the US where the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] in late February dismissed a suit [JURIST report] filed by consumer privacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) [advocacy website] asking the FTC to block Google's then proposed changes. In addition, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) [official website] last February sent a letter [JURIST report] to Google signed by 36 state attorneys general expressing concerns about the company's new privacy policy. In January 2012 Google issued a letter in response to concerns raised by members of Congress [JURIST reports] regarding consumer privacy rights as impacted by the new policy.

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