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.