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Anti-tout campaigners call on Google to axe Viagogo from its searches

By | Published on Monday 10 September 2018


Following something of an eventful week in the world of Viagogo, anti-touting campaigners have this morning called on Google to stop taking the controversial secondary ticketing website’s advertising dollar. In a joint letter to Google’s UK bosses, the All-Party Parliamentary Group On Ticket Abuse, the FanFair Alliance and the Society Of Ticket Agents & Retailers write that “one of the world’s most trusted brands – Google – is being paid to actively promote one of the least trusted”.

FanFair has long criticised ticket resale websites, and Viagogo in particular, for using Google advertising to ensure it comes top when people use the search engine to look for tickets for in-demand events. It’s argued that, by Viagogo buying its way to the top of these all important search lists, less web-savvy consumers are confused into buying tickets at hiked up prices from touts believing they are actually doing business with an official seller. Deliberately misleading words employed by Viagogo adds to the confusion.

Google introduced specific regulations for secondary ticketing platforms using its ad services earlier this year, in part to try to overcome this kind of consumer confusion. Viagogo did make some alterations on the back of the web giant’s new rules, and then again under pressure from the Advertising Standards Authority. But the APPG, FanFair and STAR all reckon that Viagogo still falls foul of Google’s own regulations, mainly by not complying with UK consumer rights law, something the web giant says all its advertisers should do.

The open letter follows an eventful week in which – although the Advertising Standards Authority confirmed Viagogo had now complied with its demands – the Competition & Markets Authority announced it had begun legal proceedings against the ticketing site. The CMA provided a list of the ways in which it believes Viagogo is in breach of UK law. Citing that litigation, Viagogo then controversially pulled out of a select committee hearing on secondary ticketing, the second time the firm has refused to answer MPs’ questions.

Summarising those events, today’s letter to Google states: “On Friday 31 Aug, the CMA issued court proceedings against Viagogo for potential breaches of consumer protection law. Last Wednesday (5 Sep), Viagogo failed for the second time to appear before the Digital, Culture, Media And Sport Select Committee in an evidence session on secondary ticketing. The Committee’s Chair, Damian Collins MP, described this as a ‘pattern of evasion, disrespectful to the House and disrespectful to consumers'”.

The letter runs through FanFair’s research on the role Google search plays in sending fans to Viagogo to buy tickets for upcoming events. It also cites the work of Victim Of Viagogo, the Facebook group that helps the company’s aggrieved customers tackle its notoriously unhelpful customer support system. The letter says: “The vast majority of these customers tell us they were led to Viagogo through Google search and unaware they were buying a resold ticket”.

Explaining why they believe Viagogo is not compliant with Google’s own rules, despite it making some changes in recent months, the letter goes on: “Viagogo’s search advertising is also, we believe, breaking Google’s own AdWords guidelines. These state clearly that advertisers are expected ‘to comply with the local laws for any area that their ads target’ and that Google will ‘generally err on the side of caution in applying this policy because we don’t want to allow content of questionable legality'”.

The letter concludes: “We understand that Viagogo is a valuable client to Google, spending considerable sums each year on paid search advertising. However, we urge you to protect consumers who daily put their trust in Google, and act now to restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence. We look forward to working with you to achieve these goals”.

Commenting on the letter, one of its signatories, Labour MP and long-time anti-tout campaigner Sharon Hodgson, said: “I have heard too many times from distressed customers of Viagogo that they were led to the website because it was at the top of their Google search. It is totally wrong that a trusted website like Google would direct consumers to such an untrustworthy website. Google need to take action in order to protect consumers, and I look forward to working with them on this in the very near future”.

Adam Webb from the FanFair Alliance added: “Google are still directing would-be ticket buyers to a website considered so untrustworthy that it faces court action for suspected breaches of consumer protection laws. It’s an absurd situation, but with a straightforward solution. Google need to enforce their own advertising guidelines and stop Viagogo buying their way to the top of search”.

And STAR CEO Jonathan Brown concluded: “Fans have always ranked as number one for STAR. We urge Google to redouble their efforts on behalf of both our passionate consumers and the fantastic live entertainment industry we serve”.

The letter is also signed by a parliamentarian from each of the key political parties in Westminster as well as trade bodies represented the music community and the festival, venues, sports and primary ticketing sectors.

For a review of the eventful week just gone in the world of Viagogo – including that Ed Sheeran litigation – check out this week’s edition of Setlist.