Fresh off a class action victory against AT&T earlier this week, an ambitious law firm is now taking a shot at Google using the same argument: The company is complicit with sleazy mobile content marketers, who offer free ringtones, screensavers, etc, that aren’t really free — they’re come-ons for subscription services.
In this case, a New Jersey woman is suing Google (GOOG) because it runs ads from deceptive marketers. MediaPost, which has been following the ringtone industry’s legal problems for a while, tracks down a legal expert to assure us that Google doesn’t have much to fear here:
[federal] law generally provides that Web sites are not liable for actions of third parties on the site. “Google’s not a guarantor of perfect content on the Internet,” Goldman said.
He added that Google’s contracts with advertisers, setting out requirements to participate in the paid search program, are irrelevant. “Google didn’t promise consumers there wouldn’t be breaches of the policy,” he said. “They didn’t represent to the consumers, ‘You can feel safe coming here and clicking on our ads.’
Sounds right to us. But we will note that online ad company Azoogle did hand over a $1 million check to the Florida Attorney General last fall for more or less the same thing.
More broadly, we worry that unless the mobile content business (ringtones are on the wane, but we assume they’ll be replaced with some other mobile equivalent of the Pet Rock sooner or later) shapes up, it’s going to find itself continually weighed down with these kind charges. In Europe, regulators have put a real crimp in content sales after consumers got abused by “free” subscription services, and there’s a good chance next the White House occupant may usher in a climate that’s a lot harder on bait-and-switch businesses.