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Google needs to stop profiting from rule-breaker Viagogo, say anti-touting campaigners

By | Published on Wednesday 20 June 2018

Live Music

The anti-touting FanFair campaign has called on Google to make good on its past commitment to protect consumers looking to buy tickets online by ceasing to take the Viagogo pound.

It also reckons that the web giant should extend its own rules so that all ticket resale sites are upfront about the unofficial status of their sellers in the copy that appears in their Google ads.

FanFair has long called for clearer communications in the secondary ticketing market. It wants to ensure buyers realise they are buying tickets from an unofficial tout rather than an approved ticket seller.

Clearer communication is needed, campaigners say, because consumers are often confused. One Which? survey reckoned that nearly half of those who buy tickets from resale sites online think they are doing business with an approved primary ticket agent.

Most secondary ticketing platforms use Google advertising to reach consumers, paying the web giant so that when people search for tickets to in-demand events their website appears top of the search list. Many consumers, not realising the difference between paid-for and organic search results, assume that whichever site is listed top must be the official one.

Aware of consumer confusion, Google introduced its own rules for secondary ticketing platforms earlier this year, including that they state on their sites that they are a marketplace for touted tickets rather than a primary ticket agent.

Even Viagogo compiled with that rule, but FanFair says that the ticket resale sector continues to employ misleading marketing practices. Meanwhile, Viagogo, while reluctantly complying with the laws of Google, is not yet complying with the laws of the United Kingdom.

Noting that when it did Google searches for 100 randomly selected live events – none of which had sold out – a secondary ticketing site topped the resulting search list 98% of the time, FanFair says that the ticket buying experience remains confusing.

The campaign states: “Google’s ticket resale guidelines have brought greater market transparency, but they could be more effective. At present, secondary sites are required to make a disclosure on their website – but not, crucially, in their actual advertising. It is not clear from their search adverts that Viagogo, StubHub and Get Me In! are listing secondhand tickets. And when situated at the top of search results, a strong implication remains that these are primary agents”.

FanFair also notes that Live Nation’s resale site Get Me In! sometimes uses Google advertising to ensure touted tickets for shows appear higher in search lists than face value tickets from official primary sellers, even when the official primary seller is Live Nation’s Ticketmaster. eBay’s StubHub does the same for shows at venues with which it has an official partnership, like the AEG-run O2 Arena and Wembley Arena.

And then there is bloody Viagogo, which is facing legal action from the UK Competition & Markets Authority and has been reported to National Trading Standards by the Advertising Standards Authority. Yet search for an Ed Sheeran gig this morning and Viagogo tops the Google list with a paid-for listing.

Adds FanFair: “Viagogo are operating in breach of both UK consumer law and an ASA ruling on misleading pricing. There is overwhelming evidence of Viagogo’s negative impacts on both audiences and artists. For Google to continue profiting from a law-breaking enterprise seems untenable”.

Calling on Google and the secondary sites themselves to do more to end consumer confusion, FanFair’s Campaign Manager Adam Webb said today: “Reforms of the UK’s ticket resale market continue to be hindered by the misleading marketing practices of the largest secondary sites. Their deployment of pay-per-click search advertising prioritises ticket touts before ticket buyers. These bad practices could easily be cleaned up by actions from three US-based corporations”.

Expanding, he went on: “Firstly, Google. We have a situation where one of the world’s most trusted brands is providing life support to one of the worst. Viagogo is a company that systematically breaks UK consumer protection laws, that ignores ASA rulings, that undermines the UK’s creative economy and causes harm to UK consumers. When even the culture minister is advocating a boycott, then surely it’s time for Google to permanently remove this law-breaking site from its advertising networks?”

As for the secondary sites, he called on StubHub and Ticketmaster – which owns Seatwave as well as Get Me In! – to “seriously up their game. Both have the wherewithal to act with greater transparency, to make clear in their search advertising that they operate resale platforms, and to stop misdirecting fans away from face value tickets at either their own or their partners’ box offices. None of this is rocket science. None of it should require regulatory intervention. Just simple and sensible changes, that would benefit consumers and make it easier for them to buy a ticket”.

In addition to digital minister Margot James at the Department Of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport hitting out at Viagogo, there remains cross-party support in Parliament for the changes FanFair is proposing to ensure customers aren’t confused into buying touted tickets.

Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, who has campaigned on this issue for years and heads up the APPG On Ticket Abuse, said: “Further research from FanFair Alliance has confirmed what we already knew – secondary ticket sites such as Viagogo, StubHub and GetMeIn! use misleading pay per click ads from Google to direct consumers to their websites, even though tickets are still available at face value on primary ticket websites”.

“As the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Ticket Abuse, I am very concerned by Google’s relationship with secondary ticket sites, the platform it provides for them and the priority it gives over primary sites. I believe that it is time for Google to cut its ties with these sites which so clearly break UK consumer law and watchdog rulings. This is something that I will be raising with the government imminently”.

Meanwhile Conservative MP Nigel Adams MP said today: “A simple change by Google could give consumers the transparency they need to ensure they are purchasing a valid ticket to an event from a trusted source. The government is determined to help the industry clean up its act and it’s about time Google came to the table”.