By Patrick Avenell

Google has emerged triumphant from a battle with the ACCC after the Federal Court dismissed allegations that it was deceiving its search engine users with the placement of advertisement amongst search results.

When users search on Google, the results typically come up in two columns: one is the basic search results and the other is a list of links paid for by advertisers to appear. This second column was formerly compiled under the heading “sponsored links” — the ACCC claimed this was misleading people using the search engine.

As a real world example of this, if you search for ‘search engine’, you receive results such as Bing, a Wikipedia page on search engines and Google itself under the main column; and links to Free Site Search Engine and Search Engines List under the paid links column.

Soon after the ACCC instigated proceedings against Google, the heading of these paid results changed from “sponsored links” to “Ads”.

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A second part of the ACCC’s mission against Google was the use of brands in sponsored links that were not associated with the advertiser. For example, an online retailer could use a major TV brand to attract consumers, who could be misled into thinking they were visiting that brand’s website.

The Federal Court agreed that this practice was “misleading or deceptive”, though it absolved Google of any responsibility, as it was “merely communicating” this information.

ACCC chairman Rod Sims said this case highlighted the new terrain being confronted by advertisers and companies in the digital age.

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