In Google Inc v Australian Competition and Consumer Commission  HCA 1 the High Court of Australia decided that Google did not engage in conduct that was misleading or deceptive by displaying sponsored links that were misleading or deceptive.
It overturned a decision of the Full Court of the Federal Court of Australia (discussed here).
The ACCC claimed that particular search results displayed by the Google search engine between 2005 and 2008 conveyed misleading and deceptive representations, and that, by publishing or displaying those search results, Google engaged in conduct in contravention of s 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974 (Cth)
The High Court reasoned as follows:
“Google did not author the sponsored links; it merely published or displayed, without adoption or endorsement, misleading representations made by advertisers….
Google emphasised that each relevant aspect of a sponsored link – the headline, the advertising text, the advertiser’s URL, the keywords and the use of keyword insertion – was specified by the advertiser, and that Google merely implemented the advertiser’s instructions. Google submitted that the technical facilities it provided through the AdWords program were different in kind, but not in principle, from facilities provided to advertisers by other intermediaries such as publishers and broadcasters. Google further contended that any commercial association or affiliation between an advertiser and another trader was something peculiarly within the knowledge of the advertiser, and was not a matter within Google’s expertise. Google also relied on the primary judge’s findings that ordinary and reasonable users of the Google search engine would have understood that the sponsored links were advertisements paid for by advertisers to promote their products and businesses, and that Google was merely passing them on for what they were worth….
That the display of sponsored links (together with organic search results) can be described as Google’s response to a user’s request for information does not render Google the maker, author, creator or originator of the information in a sponsored link. The technology which lies behind the display of a sponsored link merely assembles information provided by others for the purpose of displaying advertisements directed to users of the Google search engine in their capacity as consumers of products and services. In this sense, Google is not relevantly different from other intermediaries, such as newspaper publishers (whether in print or online) or broadcasters (whether radio, television or online), who publish, display or broadcast the advertisements of others. The fact that the provision of information via the internet will – because of the nature of the internet – necessarily involve a response to a request made by an internet user does not, without more, disturb the analogy between Google and other intermediaries. To the extent that it displays sponsored links, the Google search engine is only a means of communication between advertisers and consumers. “