INTERNET behemoth Google has won its legal battle with the consumer watchdog, after the High Court overturned a ruling that the company had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct.
The ruling ends a six-year legal battle in which the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission had argued Google was responsible for sponsored links that suggested an association between advertisers and rival firms.
The ads, published between 2006 and 2008, were paid for by STA Travel, Carsales, AusDog and the Trading Post, but were thrown up when the user searched for their respective competitors - Harvey World Travel, Honda.com.au, Alpha Dog Training and Just 4X4s magazine - and the headlines of the ads referred to the advertiser's competitor.
The ACCC launched legal action in 2007 and last year the Full Court of the Federal Court found Google had engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct by publishing and displaying the links.
But Google appealed to the High Court, which on Wednesday unanimously found in its favour.
The High Court found that Google did not create the sponsored links and ordinary and reasonable users of the search engine would have understood that the sponsored links conveyed the representation of advertisers, which were not endorsed by Google.
John Swinson, technology partner with law firm King & Wood Mallesons, said technology companies would welcome the judgment as it limited their liability for actions by users of their technology.
Google was not held responsible for misleading advertisements, despite the ads being served up by Google and created using the company's tools.