Google has won a landmark lawsuit in Australia, one that could have repercussions around the world. The company was accused by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) of misleading advertising over some ads run on the search engine.
For a period in 2006 and 2007, searches for Honda Australia would trigger an ad for CarSales, a competitor.
ACCC argued that the ad made people assume that Honda was somehow associated with CarSales, which was not true, and blamed Google for the presumed confusion.
Now, the Australian High Court ruled unanimously that Google is not to blame for the ads which are the sole responsibility of those running them, establishing that Google, search engines and ad networks in general, are just conduits for content not publishers.
The court concluded that, if there was any confusion, it was created by the ad itself and that no regular user would assume Google was supporting the messages in the ads it carries in any way.
All of this may seem like common sense to anyone who has used the web and understands how it works, but that's not most regulators and, unfortunately, that's not most judges either.
It's the first such decision for Google worldwide and could be used as a precedent elsewhere. It's not the first time Google has been involved in disputes similar to this.
Google allows anyone to bid on any keyword and some companies don't like ads for competitors showing up next to searches for their companies. Google argues that they simply bid more for the same keywords, which would benefit it obviously.
The company has been involved in several lawsuits like this, where plaintiffs argued that it was a trademark violation for Google to allow others to bid on keywords for trademarks they owned.
That's a stretch of trademark law, which only serves to prevent people from being misled into believing that some company is associated with another, which owns the trademark. Nevertheless, Google has lost or settled several of these lawsuits.