Gilbert & Tobin helps Google beat ‘misleading ads’ claims

Sydney-based Gilbert & Tobin has successfully defended Google against claims brought by Australia’s competition and consumer regulator the ACCC alleging that it ran misleading advertisements .

The Federal Court in Sydney today handed down its decision in Google’s favour, dismissing the allegations from the ACCC.

Gilbert & Tobin litigation partners Colleen Platford and Andrew Floro led a team of lawyers representing Google throughout the case. They instructed Tony Bannon SC of Sydney’s Tenth Floor Chambers.

The ACCC alleged that by failing to adequately distinguish advertisements from search results, Google had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct.

The ACCC was represented by Corrs Chambers Westgarth partner Richard Flitcroft, who instructed Christine Adamson SC of Banco Chambers in Sydney.

Justice Nicholas found that the use of the word ’advertisement’ or an abbreviation of that word, rather than ’sponsored links’, might eliminate or reduce confusion in the minds of some users.

However, he held that the presentation of Google’s search results did not breach consumer law as most users would have appreciated that ’sponsored links’ were in fact advertisements.

Since the ACCC instituted these proceedings, Google has changed the description of its advertisements on its search results pages from ’Sponsored Links’ to ’Ads’.

The ACCC was the first regulatory body to seek legal clarification of Google’s conduct from a trade practices perspective. However Google has been scrutinised over trademark use in the US, France and Belgium. Google has also faced scrutiny overseas, particularly in the EU, in relation to competition issues concerning its search results business.

“This case is important in relation to clarifying advertising practices in the internet age,” said ACCC chairman Rod Sims in a statement. “All businesses involved in placing advertisements on search engines must take care not to mislead or deceive consumers.”