Google fine for Italian ad ban violations overturned

By Daniel O'Boyle

Google has had a fine and an injunction overturned, after a court ruled that it couldn't be held responsible for violations of Italy's ban on gambling ads that occurred due to a “circumvention” of its screening process.

Google had received an injunction from ad regulator Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni (AGCOM) on 29 October, 2020 for violaiton of the “dignity decree” - the law that banned all gambling ads in Italy. As part of the injunction, it was fined €100,000.

The injunction concerned an advertisement for Sublime Casino that appeared in searches for “online casino”. The ad said “Join the brand new Italian online casino now. Play over 400 games now - Join now and register in less than 30 seconds! No downloads. Safe and secure.”

While there was no dispute that the content was a gambling ad, Google argued that the ad had been placed without its knowledge, and through duplicitous means.

It pointed out that its ad platform was automated, meaning that businesses can submit ads without Google verifying any of the content. Although checks were in place to block all gambling ads, in this case, it said Sublime Casino had used a technique Google called “cloaking” to “circumvent” security checks.

“As soon as this activity was detected, Google Ireland immediately suspended the user 's account and proceeded to remove the disputed advertisement,” it told the court.

As a result, it raised the issue to the Regional Administrative Court for Lazio and asked it to rule the injunction and fine invalid, as it said it had taken all of the steps required of an advertising host according to the Decree.

The court drew on previous rulings about ad hosting, though not related to the gambling ad ban, to determine that - in order to be considered a hosting provider for advertisements - a business must be “active, capable of giving him the knowledge or control of the stored data”.

As a result, it said that “all the indices that... determine the exclusion of the manager's responsibility from the internet platform for illegal content inserted by third parties” are present.

Because of this, the court opted to cancel the injunction and fine.

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