Google Guilty of Hosting ‘Misleading’ Ads
Interesting piece of news coming from Australia today, that Google has been found guilty by the Australian Federal Court of hosting misleading ads via Google Adwords.
This is an issue that concerns me quite a bit, as it’s something I have to contend with on a daily basis (see below image).
To put it another way, as described in El Reg’s article;
Travel agency STA Travel, for example, bought ads that appeared when Google users searched for rival travel agency Harvey World Travel. The copy for some of those ads mentioned Harvey World Travel, but the embedded links sent users to the STA Travel website. Several other companies indulged in similar practices.
Now, I’m not blaming the companies who buy the ads for this. All’s fair in love and war and many industries are quite cut-throat, with the bleeding edge usually being in legal grey areas, or morally unsettling ones. There’s also an issue of actual laws covering this behaviour of which there is precious few globally. Another example of how unfortunately far behind the internet legal practice is.
So I do agree with the court ruling, that the onus should be on Google to prevent this from happening. This isn’t an issue of a company getting one over on a competitior, it’s a company misleading consumers as to what links they’re clicking. It’s equivalent of spam/malware links that trick people into downloading trojans under the premise of a free game.
The consumer suffers because they’re not getting the service they thought they were clicking into. Google suffers because users lose trust with them – Google are serving me up fake ads! Why should I trust them? So it surprises me that Google are so resistant to handling this affair internally when I can only see reputational damage as being the likely outcome.
Also, obviously, as a person who’s getting the bad end of Google’s policies on this matter, it sucks that a company is allowed to walk over us and I’m not able to do much of anything about it. That much is obvious.
Looking over some info on Google’s site about the matter you can find the following notice:
Please note the regions where we will investigate ad text only. We will not disable keywords in response to a trademark complaint in these regions.
Which translates as ‘Tough, deal with it, not our problem’. I don’t so much blame Google for this stance as more the lack of relevant legislation in most countries pertaining to this issue, but I do think they should have taken initiative on it rather than waiting and letting a mounting swell of bad press build in the background.
The case in Australia is a landmark one that I don’t think Google will appeal. It’s also highly unlikely it will force a rollout of policy changes globally, rather just specific to Australia. Which is a shame. So for the moment in Ireland we’re stuck with a free-for-all where companies can essentially dump on each other from above, damaging consumer confidence, while Google sits back on a legislation-free couch.