opinion Opinion July 26, 2019

“The battle against dodgy ticket resellers is only half won”: Evelyn Richardson on Google vs Viagogo

“The battle against dodgy ticket resellers is only half won”: Evelyn Richardson on Google vs Viagogo

Google’s recent announcement that it would stop notorious ticket reseller Viagogo from promoting itself through paid search results was a welcome – although significantly overdue – step.

Google made a big deal about taking action against advertisers who breached its “strict policies”. Apparently this was a surprise to Viagogo, who asserted they didn’t think they had violated Google’s policies and hoped to come to a quick resolution.

On behalf of Australia’s live performers and promoters, we welcomed Google’s action as good for the ticket-buying public and for performers who don’t want to see their fans being disappointed or ripped off through dodgy and over-priced ticket resale practices.

It was certainly a major turnaround compared to just two years ago when we first approached Google with our concerns. I wrote to Google’s Australian managing director Jason Pellegrino in May 2017 calling for action against ticket resellers like Viagogo.

I highlighted the example of a tour by Ed Sheeran to point out various blatant instances of misleading and deceptive conduct by Viagogo through paid search.

A Google legal representative responded, some two months later. He noted our concerns and promised they would be considered as part of any future changes to Google’s policies concerning resellers.

The letter went into the reasons why the behaviour of advertisers like Viagogo was not Google’s problem and that we should take up our concerns with the relevant regulator – in this case, the ACCC.

Fortunately for fans and artists, the regulator did step up and intervene.

The ACCC announced court action against Viagogo in August 2017. And earlier this year, the Federal Court found that Viagogo had made false or misleading representations.

The courts also found that Viagogo had engaged in conduct liable to mislead the public in breach of the Australian Consumer Law. This finding also included the use of the word ‘official’ in its online advertisements, labelling the tactic misleading.

Finally, Google concluded, via the Federal Court decision, that Viagogo was indeed in breach of its advertising policies.

While Google has decided to ban Viagogo from appearing in its paid search results, they still appear in organic results, albeit a few listings further down the page.

However, this means Viagogo is still able to make misleading and deceptive representations which are in breach of Australian Consumer Law, to people buying tickets online.

The battle against dodgy ticket resellers is only half won.

There is also the problem of ticket resales through other online channels such as Facebook and Gumtree, where buyers have also been the victim of scams and shonky practices.

We are yet to hear any public statements from those platforms about what steps they will take to ensure the integrity of transactions through their channels.

Of course, there is a legitimate place for online ticket resale, particularly given how much of our lives is now transacted online.

However, online ticket resales must conform to the requirements of Australian Consumer Law. Particularly around the representation of the item being sold, and protections for consumers to ensure they get what they pay for.

We also need to stamp out the predatory behaviour of those resellers who seek to maximise their profit on a ticket resale, none of which flows back to the artist or event promoter.

This includes addressing those resellers who use ‘ticket bots’ to buy large volumes of highly sought after tickets to resell at heavily inflated prices.

Australia needs to get in step with international markets such as the US and UK where this has already been outlawed.

The ACCC is to be congratulated for leading the charge against operators such as Viagogo who were ripping off unsuspecting fans and artists.

In the absence of leadership from the big tech platforms beyond their usual platitudes, it will take more determined action from our regulators to clean up the online ticket resale marketplace.

For more information on how to buy tickets safely, download LPA’s Guide to Safe Tix.

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