Australia sets date for Google keyword case

The Australian competition regulator's allegations of misleading and deceptive advertising practices by Google will be heard in June

The Australian Federal Court has set a hearing date for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's allegations against Google of misleading and deceptive conduct.

Last Friday, Justice James Allsop set a hearing date of 23 June for the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's (ACCC) case against Google to be heard in the Federal Court.

Friday's court date allowed the ACCC to resubmit its case against Google after Justice Allsop was unable to understand the ACCC's initial submission, which he called "incomprehensible" and "repetitious".

Google is accused of inadequately distinguishing between its sponsored links and the normal "organic" search results its engine produces.

The ACCC's initial statement of claim was against Google and its subsidiaries, Google Australia and Google Ireland. However, it dropped allegations against the subsidiaries after Google said that any orders against it would be applied to its subsidiaries.

Separate allegations of deceptive and misleading advertising were first levelled against Google and Australian website Trading Post's parent company, Sensis, in July after the Trading Post was found to have purchased Google keywords using competitors' business names which were displayed on Google's sponsored links.

Google Australia has defended its sponsored link advertising practices, claiming the ACCC's allegations are an attack on all search engines and Australian businesses that use Google to connect with customers.

"The ACCC's claims against Google are entirely without merit and we will continue to defend against them vigorously. We're very much looking forward to making our arguments to the court," said Google Australia's spokesperson.

Sensis Australia meanwhile has said it is seeking to settle with the ACCC out of court.

The ACCC's allegations against the Trading Post centre on its use of the business names "Kloster Ford" and "Charlestown Toyota", which appeared in the title of Google sponsored links to the Trading Post's website in 2005.

Sensis was employing third-party search-engine marketing companies to select keywords for use on Google's sponsored links, which appear at the top and side panel of not-paid-for "organic" search results, said a spokesperson for Sensis.

"We're bringing that in-house, rather than using third-party agencies and we're setting up rigorous processes when keywords are purchased. As a result of that and working through the details for the ACCC case, we are exploring some new possibilities with the ACCC," the spokesperson told ZDNet Australia.

"We are pleased to be exploring the possibility of settling the matter with the ACCC, but, as the matter is still before the court, we don't wish to elaborate further," The spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the ACCC would not confirm whether it would be settling with Sensis.