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Google defends AdWords changes after attacks by MPs

Google has reiterated its support for increasing transparency in secondary ticketing, as campaigners and lawmakers call for further changes

By Jon Chapple on 20 Jun 2018

Roger Waters Us + Them tour, Zurich

image © Kate Izor/Roger Waters

Google has issued a robust defence of recent changes to its AdWords advertising policies, amid renewed criticism of the search giant by British parliamentarians and anti-ticket touting campaigners.

Campaign group FanFair Alliance, along with well-known secondary ticketing critics Nigel Adams MP and Sharon Hodgson MP, have called on Google to implement more stringent advertising restrictions on ticket resale sites – as well as completely sever ties with Viagogo, which FanFair says is operating in breach of UK consumer law, as demonstrated by recent sanctions from the ASA and CMA.

Google announced last November that, as of February, ticket resellers would be placed in its ‘other restricted businesses’ AdWords category, requiring them to be certified before they can purchase advertising through the platform.

To be certified, resellers were required to make clear to customers that their prices may be higher than face value; break down prices to show included fees and taxes during checkout, and before the customer provides payment information; and refrain from implying they are the “primary or original provider of event tickets”.

While FanFair “unequivocally welcomed” the new restrictions, it warned in February that consumers would continue to be misled if sites are not forced to make clear in their AdWords advertising – which appears in Google’s search results – that they are not primary ticket agencies. At present, the requirement is limited to pages on the websites themselves, such as the landing page accessed after clicking a Google ad.

New research by the organisation reveals that searching on Google for tickets to “a random selection of 100 live music events in the UK”, including Ed Sheeran, Justin Timberlake, the Rolling Stones, Roger Waters (pictured), Superorganism, the Proms, Wiz Khalifa, Tony Hadley and Krept and Konan, results in secondary sites topping the search results 98% of the time – “without any obvious disclosure that they were listing second-hand tickets”.

“We want consumers to be aware of the prices they pay for shows”

“Further research from FanFair Alliance has confirmed what we already knew: secondary ticketing sites such as Viagogo, StubHub and Get Me In! 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,” comments Hodgson.

“As chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, I am very concerned by Google’s relationship with secondary ticketing sites, the platform it provides for them and the priority it gives over primary sites.”

Adds Adams, the MP for Selby and Ainsty: “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.”

While Google says its policy is not to comment on specific advertisers – in this case, Viagogo – it remains committed to working with both regulators and the music industry to protect consumers, a spokesperson tells IQ.

“Because we want consumers to be aware of the prices they pay for shows, in February we updated our policies to ensure that resellers must clearly provide the total and breakdown of the price across fees and taxes before requiring payment,” the company says in a statement. “We work closely with the ASA and remain in active conversations with them on their rulings.”

The spokesperson adds that, while Google’s remit includes only the ad itself and the landing page, it took the decision to compel secondary ticketers which advertise through AdWords to show a full breakdown of all fees before check-out – and will in the coming months require all advertisers to additionally list the face value of the ticket they are selling.

“One of the world’s most trusted brands is providing life support to one of the worst”

In addition to its recommendations for Google, especially relating to Viagogo – “We have a situation where one of the world’s most trusted brands [Google] is providing life support to one of the worst [Viagogo],” says campaign manager Adam Webb – FanFair has additionally called on Ticketmaster and StubHub, the global primary and secondary market leaders, respectively, to do more to steer fans away from resale tickets.

“Our findings highlight numerous examples of Ticketmaster prioritising Get Me In! on Google search when face-value tickets are available at Ticketmaster-controlled box offices,” says Webb. “Similarly, we see StubHub systematically directing consumers towards touted tickets when their event partners – such as the O2 and SSE Arena, Wembley – still have face-value inventory.”

Ticketmaster and StubHub, Webb concludes, need 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.”

A StubHub spokesperson says: “Approximately 40% of ticket transactions on StubHub’s UK site sell below face value, allowing fans who can’t make it to an event to pass them on to someone who can. Those with a vested interest in controlling ticketing and fan access omit this fact, as they seek to diminish the work that StubHub does on behalf of fans around the world to provide access to the events and experiences they love. In fact, 99% of sellers on StubHub are fans, and our site serves as a marketplace for them to transfer their tickets and recoup losses since primary ticket sellers do not offer refunds.

“We are supportive of more transparency and are actively engaged with members of parliament to advocate for fans and their freedom of choice when it comes to tickets.”


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