ACCC wasting your money

In 2007 the ACCC launched a legal case against Google claiming that returns in response to a search request did not provide a clear enough distinction between its “organic” search results and the advertisements that run alongside them.

The case was dismissed by the Federal Court in 2010. The ACCC appealed that ruling and won. Google applied to the High Court for a resolution.

The High Court has ruled unanimously in Google’s favour. The High Court’s judgement states:

The appeal [by Google] should be allowed with costs. Orders 1-5 made by the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia on 3 April 2012 and orders 1-3 made by the Federal Court on 4 May 2012 should be set aside. In lieu thereof, the appeal to the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia should be dismissed with costs.

As the High Court stated in a summary of the judgement

Ordinary and reasonable users of the Google search engine would have understood that the representations conveyed by the sponsored links were those of the advertisers

This seems pretty obvious to me – I’m a frequent user of the Google search engine and have never assumed that the advertisements were a sign of endorsement by Google.

So why did the ACCC waste taxpayers’ money pursuing a forlorn case? Not only has it used up countless time and effort pursuing this case for six years (how many staff were involved?) but it would have paid a large amount for its lawyers and has been ordered to pay costs to Google for the three hearings.

The best we hear from the ACCC is its present Chairman, Rod Simms (who to be fair didn’t take the job until August 2011) who said that the ACCC had taken the case to “clarify” the law.

That’s a very expensive way to clarify the law.

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Samuel J has an economics background and is a part-time consultant
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25 Responses to ACCC wasting your money

  1. JC

    The best we hear from the ACCC is its present Chairman, Rod Simms (who to be fair didn’t take the job until August 2011) who said that the ACCC had taken the case to “clarify” the law.

    That’s just so horrendous.

  2. Fleeced

    Why would it matter if the distinction wasn’t clear anyway? That’s the real outrage here.

  3. This must be the only thing the Trade Union Party didn’t run past a focus group.

    I can tell the Trade Union Party their policies are crap for a fraction of the cost of the ACCC and the High Court.

  4. Rabz

    OK, so was responsible for this fool’s errand?

    They should bloody well be sacked and held liable for all the costs.

    Inexcusable.

  5. Jessie

    Well Google had a better time with the ABS, it seems.

    Google’s Chief Economist visits the ABS

    On ABS invitation, Professor Hal Varian, the Chief Economist of Google, visited the ABS in early July. Professor Varian’s visit coincided with a trip to Australia for the Australian Conference of Economists in Canberra, where he was a keynote speaker.

  6. Jessie

    Forester at 10.36

    But would your offer run into 1,000s of pages, countless consultancies and takeup of other freebies? Surely you should be benchmarkng your offer against the currently reported going rate and novel approaches.

  7. Gab

    So why did the ACCC waste taxpayers’ money pursuing a forlorn case?

    Were they advised by Slater & Gordon or Morris Blackburn to pursue the case?

  8. Leigh Lowe

    The batting average of the ACCC in court is not great.

  9. Infidel Tiger

    The ACCC should have googled the answer.

  10. pete m

    What a load of BS from the ACCC. Government departments always trot this out whenever they lose in court.

    1. A competent QC would have given advice on the correct meaning for about $20K. No need to run off to Court.

    2. As said above, if you aren’t sure, then it is bad law. Guess what? Bad law can be changed.

    3. Only a moron couldn’t understand google ads were just that – ads! wow those poor kiddies don’t know what ads do, like um, sell stuff!

    4. ACCC is fast earning an ASIC reputation in large claims. ACCC has a strong track record of little wins against lots of companies who see giving an undertaking a cheap out from a legal battle with an opponent with their legal muscle. They have an advantage in the TPA is heavily geared in their favour, whereas the Corp Law is full of weasel words.

    Gab – ACCC usually use Minters or Clutz or in house it. PI firms don’t get into this sort of work. Nice way to besmirch a commercial firm by labelling them as a pi firm.

  11. NoFixedAddress

    ACCC, NBN, ABC, Schools, Hospitals, Treasury….. what does it matter?

  12. johno

    The ACCC is long past its use by date. Wind it up.

  13. And yet when there’s at least a genuine reason to suspect consumers are actually getting screwed (e.g. by utility companies and petrol companies), they’re missing in action. Have they nothing better to do?!

  14. gary

    Sack the judges of the Federal Court who got the law wrong. It amazes me when I read that someone can win in a lower court, lose on appeal to a higher court, then win again on appeal to an even higher court. The judges who don’t know the law should be sacked and lose their pensions etc – let them drive cabs to make a living.

  15. Leigh Lowe

    Sack the judges of the Federal Court who got the law wrong.

    Like most public officials they are worried about their “legacy”.
    Politicians want to immortalise themselves as the “father” of some great and good policy initiative, or be associated with a monster piece of infrastructure.
    Similarly, judges are constantly on the lookout for their “snail in the ginger-beer bottle” moment.
    Witness not only the ACCC case, but also the ludicrous Optus sports broadcasting decision in the Federal Court which was knocked ove r on appeal.
    The next cab off the rank (pun intended) will be Rares non-decision in the case of Slippery Pete vs the boy.

  16. Jessie
    6 Feb 13 at 10:47 pm

    My approach is very novel; from a bench at my favourite caravan park down the coast!

  17. Up The Workers!

    If the A.C.C.C. want to establish a reputation for themselves as ‘activists’, then I (and 23 million other Australians) could inform them of an instance where an individual promised all 23 million of us : “There will be no carbon tax under a Government I lead.”

    How about launching a prosecution over THAT classic and monstrous example of deceit and fraud?

    Or are the A.C.C.C just as blind, deaf, dumb and catatonic as the A.T.O. are over the taxation implications of the A.W.U. and H.S.U. embezzlement cases where millions of dollars of union and other funds were converted to personal enrichment scams tax free?

  18. UTW, so who do I put in charge of the ACCC when I become King? The mission will be to clean the nest out, and do their jobs.

  19. Harold

    Knock a C off and replace Google with Drugs In Sport.

    Can’t see how drugs in sport are making anyone’s life worse.

    The Australian Rugby Union’s Integrity Office uncovered four cases of amateur players taking performance enhancing drugs in past 2 years.

    Out of how many?

  20. Jessie

    Forrester,
    Good one. Hope you snag a tuna, mackerel or queenie should your line be far enough out. Anything else, toss it back for the plebs.

  21. mundi

    ACCC just target the big guys, which they know will take years and secrure there jobs. how many millions wasted on something so trivial as sponsed adds? and google is free, the should be able to mash up results anyway they want.

    ACCC fined apple for calling a device 4g even though it had 4g hardware because no teleco decided to use the same frequencies.

    Accc is the mother of the nanny state. amaking the hand of the big bad companies.

  22. wreckage

    ACCC should be one guy and a secretary who react to complaints only. We could call the guy something cool like boda-boom bud-lite man. Boombudsman… ombudsman.

    Yeah. That would rock.

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