Google’s backflip on its ban on Viagogo ads is a “terrible decision” and the government now needs to step in, according to shadow minister for the arts Tony Burke.
Viagogo is a Switzerland-based platform for ticket exchange and reselling, with concert tickets often selling for significantly more than the original price.
The company commonly buys advertising on Google, giving it earlier placement in search results for major shows.
In July this year Google moved to indefinitely ban Viagogo from advertising on its platform after a long-running campaign from music promoters, consumer groups and politicians.
But this week the search engine giant quietly went back on this decision, with Viagogo now appearing at the top of the results for searches for the upcoming Elton John and Liam Gallagher shows in Australia.
Google justifies change of heart
In a statement, Google said Viagogo had been successful in appealing its ban.
“Any advertiser can appeal a suspension, and if we find that they have made appropriate changes to their account they may be eligible for reactivation,” a Google spokesperson said.
“We will still continue to enforce our policies and we will take action against ads or accounts that violate our policies.”
Google’s concerns were specifically around ensuring Viagogo did not claim to be an official seller of tickets, and that the ticket price is clear and obvious at all stops of the process.
Fans ripped off
Burke slammed Google for the decision, saying that Australian music fans will “pay a high price” for it.
“This is a terrible decision by Google,” Burke said.
“Viagogo cannot be trusted. For years it has been selling fake and overpriced tickets that have left countless concertgoers disappointed.
“Music fans do not go to Viagogo because it’s the best place to buy tickets – they are directed there by search engines.”
Burke urged the government to take action after the Google reversal.
“The government cannot just sit on its hands while consumers are routinely getting ripped off,” he said.
“It should clamp down on sites like Viagogo, including by legislating a national resale price cap and banning ticket-buying bots.”
A number of concert promoters have also criticised the reappearance of Viagogo, with Frontier Touring’s Michael Gudinski saying he was “incredibly disappointed”.
“It surprises we that a company of Google’s reputation would condone a business of Viagogo’s nature,” Gudinski said.
“Since Google removed all Viagogo advertising we have seen a notable drop-off in the number of complaints, which shows the measure was effective.
“I can only assume that Google’s decision has been made in their economic interests, however, it is an enormous step backwards in the fight against ticket scalping.”
See you in court
The Australian Federal Court ruled in April that Viagogo had misled consumers and breached consumer law after the case was brought forward by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
The company is now facing a huge fine with the court finding it had made false and misleading representations by claiming that tickets to certain events were scarce, even when this scarcity was only on the Viagogo platform.
It also found that the platform’s use of “official” in its online ads were misleading.
A penalty hearing will be held in April next year, where it will be revealed how big a fine Viagogo will be hit with.
Viagogo also recently acquired rival ticket reseller StubHub for $US4.05 billion, leading to concerns that it will have a monopoly in the market.
In the UK, a music industry group has written to the Competition and Markets Authority warning that the deal will have a major impact on competition in the market, with “significant and damaging implications”.