Google in the gun over search ads for ticket scalping, movie piracy sites

Analysis: Viagogo and movie piracy sites make heavy use of the search giant's ad services as they commit alleged crimes.
ASA head Hilary Souter is willing to field a complaint against Google if one is submitted by one of Viagogo's alleged 228 victims.

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Viagogo is now under investigation by the Commerce Commission – but Google is happy to keep taking the ticket scalping site's money, and serve up its ads.

Late yesterday, the consumer watchdog warned people against using the ticket reselling site as it investigates 228 complaints about sports event and concert tickets that proved fake, never arrived, didn’t have the special access advertised, or were genuine but had been sold to multiple people.

Viagogo is also in deep trouble across the Tasman, where the ACCC (Aussie’s equivalent of the Commerce Commission) has taken it to the Federal Court over 400 alleged incidents of fraud.

Here, the Commerce Commission says Viagogo is misrepresenting itself as an official reseller.

The rogue site’s heavy use of Google Ad words helps fuel that impression.

“We suspect consumers type the name of the artist they want to see into a search engine and then click the first result that appears, which is often Viagogo,” Commerce Commission consumer manager Stuart Wallace. says

Violates Google's own policy
If it gets back to NBR, then Google could conceivably take an "innocent until proven guilty" free speech line.

Yet Viagogo is also breaching the search giant's own policy.

Mr Wallace notes that, under pressure from the ACCC, “In February 2018, Google also made changes which require event ticket resellers to be certified by Google before they can advertise through Google AdWords. To be certified resellers, they must disclose to customers that they are a reseller and that their prices may be higher than the face value. Prices must also be broken down to show the values of included fees and taxes before a customer provides payment. In March 2018, Google will also require certified resellers to post the face value of the tickets alongside the reseller’s price.”

It's March now, and during a search by NBR for Lionel Richie tickets for his pending Spark Arena concert, a Viagogo sponsored link topped Google’s search results.

The Google ad linked to Viagogo’s site, where the offer of Lionel Richie tickets only partially fills Google’s new criteria.

Tickets' original value is listed, but not alongside the reseller price as required but in fine print at the bottom of the page (and I'm willing to bet few get to that fine print, and more so given Viagogo keeps reminding you that you only have minutes or seconds left to complete your transaction and secure your tickets).

When NBR tried to secure a ticket, tax and any delivery charge were not broken out before payment were required, either, and Viagogo did not make it clear it was not an official seller.

Google needs to front up
NBR has asked Google for comment on:

1) Why is it still serving Viagogo ads when the company is under investigation by the ACCC and the Commerce Commission?

2) Why is it still serving Viagogo ads when the company is violating its own terms and conditions?

The Advertising Standards Authority says it has not received any complaints about Viagogo.

However, chief executive Hilary Souter says the industry body would look at one if it were submitted. While jurisdiction is always an issue with cases that involve overseas companies (Viagogo is based in Switzerland), she notes that US-based Google has engaged with the ASA over previous cases.

Ads for pirate movie sites served up by Google Custom search on

Google Ads for pirate movie sites
I’ve also noticed recently that Google has been serving up a lot of ads for what appear to be pirate movie sites.

For example, if you go to movie listing site, which licenses Google as its inhouse search engine, then any search for a currently screening movie will return Google ads for sites that promise the full version of the movie, for free.

NZ Screen Association chief executive Matthew Cheetham says the sites are clearly pirate outfits.

A clampdown is possible.

Mr Cheetham notes the City of London Police’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) worked with government and ad agencies to blacklist pirate sites from searches.

And here, the ASA’s Ms Souter says she would consider a complaint about pirate movie site ads being served up by Google, should the NZ Screen Association lay a complaint.

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