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Judge: "Google Not Liable for Fraudulent Ads"
Ringtone subscription
farmboy




msg:3813776
 3:15 am on Dec 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

[adotas.com...]

The plaintiff is a New Jersey resident who said she was billed for a ringtone subscription by a fraudulent site she found through a Google ad.

FarmBoy

 

swa66




msg:3813791
 3:48 am on Dec 24, 2008 (gmt 0)

Ok, Google got of the hook, how about any of us having the same luck without Google's team of lawyers ?

johnnie




msg:3815565
 2:28 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

It's only a matter of time before a webmaster gets sued for the ads its displaying. Gogle should clean up its act; frauds are running rampant on adsense at the moment.

signor_john




msg:3815575
 2:58 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

The basic premise behind the judge's decision shouldn't be too hard to grasp:

Fraudulent advertisers are responsible for their fraudulent ads.

To use an analogy, if the crook arrives by bus, you go after the crook, not the bus company.

farmboy




msg:3815588
 3:10 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

To use an analogy, if the crook arrives by bus, you go after the crook, not the bus company.

If the bank robber arrives by car, the car's driver is probably going to get questioned, and maybe even arrested for being an accessory.

The question is whether Google is more like the bus company or the car's driver.

FarmBoy

signor_john




msg:3815613
 3:35 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

I don't recall seeing any stories about newspapers, magazines, TV networks, or radio stations paying damages or being hit with criminal charges because of advertisers who committed fraud or violated other laws.

Still, if you're genuinely worried about sued for advertisers' sins, wouldn't it make sense to find a different business model? Even direct ad sales aren't a panacea: I'm sure there were plenty of media running corporate ads for Enron before Ken Lay & Co. were exposed as scammers.

Quadrille




msg:3815617
 3:46 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

It is ludicrous to suggest that Google must check out every advertiser, any more than you'd expect the local paper to be responsible for frauds.

Once Google has been informed of a fraud, then it would be reasonable to expect them to remove the ads, and the fraid's accounts.

Which, so far as I'm aware, they do.

Even if you accept the 'Google as accessory' argument (I don't), then you still need to chase the fraud before you worry about the accessory.

The logic is clear - these folk go after Google not because they are guilty, but because they are known to be rich.

When Google accepts the ad, they cannot conceivably know that the advertiser is planning to defraud others.

And who really wants Google to be the web police?

Quadrille




msg:3815624
 4:03 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

To use an analogy, if the crook arrives by bus, you go after the crook, not the bus company.

If the bank robber arrives by car, the car's driver is probably going to get questioned, and maybe even arrested for being an accessory.

The question is whether Google is more like the bus company or the car's driver.

Unless you are seriously suggesting that Google is colluding with the frauds, then it's the bus company - and unless you have evidence to the contrary, it's fairly obvious that the original analogy was sound, and the bus driver was no mind reader.

Not so exciting - but facts rarely are ;)

OnlyToday




msg:3815628
 4:04 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

The same precedent will apply to your website, perhaps more so if a victim cannot sue Google. And if the "victim" is a fraud going for a nuisance settlement they'll go after Google not you. I doubt any AdSense publisher has deeper pockets than G.

coachm




msg:3815686
 5:14 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

Actually, the issue is a bit more complex in law. There are two possible ways a reasonable argument "could" be made. One is that google, knowing the potential harm that could occur as a result of fraudulent ads, would be held negligent because it knew and didn't take action.

That's often upheld in the courts in other arenas, including some things most of us would regard as silly, such as the great hot coffee escapades (although we don't tend to hear the results of later appeals).

The second possibility is charging under conspiracy, since one could argue that, if google is aware of the fraud, that their taking money involves entering into a conspiracy to commit fraud.

Both of these could be upheld in a court, so thinking these situations are black and white is rather dangerous.

Quadrille




msg:3815698
 5:37 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

Except that there's plenty of evidence that, by and large, when Google knows, they DO take action.

The conspiracy thing would be almost impossible to prove; you'd need solid evidence that at least one human being at Google knew in advance, what was going on, for starters.

With almost all of Google's advertising being 100% automated, you'd not find that easy.

It certainly isn't black and white - but all the precedents say 'don't shoot the messenger' - if you want an exception, you'll need good evidence, and very expensive lawyers. Lazy and/or greedy plaintiffs go for Google rather than the fraudster because Google has money - but they also have good lawyers, so seeing them as a soft touch is a tad unwise.

swa66




msg:3815769
 7:35 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

If you live outside the US the issue can be far more complex: Since the publisher might well be the only one within reach of the law, you might well be the only defendant.

And in some places (traditional) publishers *are* responsible for they print, advertiser or not.

farmboy




msg:3815836
 9:21 pm on Dec 29, 2008 (gmt 0)

For what it's worth, I didn't start this thread, even though my name is on it. I posted about the lawsuit on 12-25 in the Domain Parking thread with a note to be careful which domains you register - [webmasterworld.com...]

Evidently one of the moderators pulled that post out of the other thread and modified it to start this new thread.

FarmBoy

ispy




msg:3816116
 8:37 am on Dec 30, 2008 (gmt 0)

Evidently one of the moderators pulled that post out of the other thread and modified it to start this new thread.

Ok, FarmBoy got of the hook, how about any of us having the same luck without Webmasterworld's team of lawyers?

OnlyToday




msg:3816301
 4:00 pm on Dec 30, 2008 (gmt 0)

It's an interesting issue for discussion but something I'd worry about as much as being struck by falling meteors.

greatstart




msg:3816626
 2:01 am on Dec 31, 2008 (gmt 0)

Do we have any lawyers here at webmaster world that can look further into a matter like this?

JS_Harris




msg:3824054
 8:22 pm on Jan 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

signor_john wrote:
The basic premise behind the judge's decision shouldn't be too hard to grasp:

Fraudulent advertisers are responsible for their fraudulent ads.

To use an analogy, if the crook arrives by bus, you go after the crook, not the bus company.

That's common sense talk, the reality is that Google took money and agreed to show the ads making them responsible regardless of the decision.

I think your analogy should have been "if there is crooked advertising on the bus, go after the bus company responsible for puting it there REGARDLESS of who's money they took as payment for the ads.

purplecape




msg:3824111
 9:12 pm on Jan 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

JS, if you make the bus company responsible for the ads appearing on their busses, then they have to check out every ad, which would be expensive and might cause there to be no ads appearing in them at all.

Same thing with newspapers and magazines. Do you really think it's reasonable to require them to research every ad and every advertiser? AFAIK, they don't and they don't have to, at least in the US.

OnlyToday




msg:3824112
 9:30 pm on Jan 11, 2009 (gmt 0)

The nature of the medium and intent are everything. Allowing responsibility for frauds and crimes to flow to those with no ill intent would impede or destroy advertising altogether, where would it end?

The deepest pockets would attract all the lawsuits no matter how tenuous the connection was and thus there would be no commerce.

coachm




msg:3824182
 1:00 am on Jan 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

AFAIK, they don't and they don't have to, at least in the US.

I'm curious to know what facts you base this conclusion on? How many newspapers, magazines and bus companies have you checked?

(actually, most companies vet ads to some degree, and not in others).

coachm




msg:3824184
 1:04 am on Jan 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

I beleive there is strong precedent in law to expect that ONCE AWARE of illegal acts, a third party can be held liable if it takes no action. The standard tends to be "would a reasonable person be aware of the risk", and thus then be obligated to take action. Ignorance is clearly no excuse for being an accessory to illegal behavior IF the person is aware that illegal behavior is occuring and is helping it occur.

That's the sensible way to do this, gets around checking everything, and is fair to all. If I was launching a law suit on this issue, I'd allege conspiracy to commit fraud, rather than fraud.

purplecape




msg:3824222
 2:24 am on Jan 12, 2009 (gmt 0)

I base my comments on what I've read over 20 years of working in various branches of publishing. As you said, "most companies vet ads to some degree, and not in others." They do this to protect their reputation with their readers, and not for any legal reason. If they were doing that for legal reasons, that kind of inconsistency makes no sense.

It's an altogether different situation if the publisher is aware of or has reason to know that an advertiser has a bad reputation, or if the advertiser presents ads that make obviously false claims....

But, I am not a lawyer, and that's a good thing, because it allows me to toss around my unformed opinions with no fear of consequences!

In any case, I think we agree on a key point--that the legal decision that kicked off this thread was unremarkable. It would have been a surprise, and potentially had significant consequences, if the judge had decided differently.

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