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Google Sued For Failing To Police Mobile Services Advertisers

The case was filed on behalf of a New Jersey woman who claims to have used Google to search for the keyword "ringtone" and related terms in December.

A lawsuit filed against Google in late April alleges that the search company puts profits ahead of user protection by refusing to ban online ads for fraudulent mobile services, despite evident ad policy violations.

"Driven by financial motivations, Google intentionally refuses to enforce its policies with respect to mobile subscription services," the complaint states. "Google intentionally misleads its users by, on one hand, making public representations that it will not allow advertising for mobile subscription services which do not 'clearly and accurately' disclose relevant pricing and related information, while at the same time allowing such advertising to regularly appear on its Web site."

The complaint points out that Google's tolerance of policy violations committed by mobile subscription service advertisers stands in stark contrast to the company's active effort to block gambling ads -- a position, the complaint suggests, that Google only took "because it felt pressure to do so after a separate lawsuit was filed against it."

Google last week filed to move the case from Santa Clara Superior Court to U.S. District Court in San Jose, Calif. "While we cannot comment on ongoing litigation, we are confident in our position and will defend vigorously against these claims," said a company spokesperson via e-mail.

The case was filed on behalf of plaintiff Jenna Goddard, a resident of New Jersey, who claims to have used Google to search for the keyword "ringtone" and related terms in December 2007. The complaint states that she clicked on an AdWords ad and was taken to the Web site of "Fraudulent Mobile Subscription Services Web sites," which failed to display pricing information as required by Google's mobile services ad policy.

When Goddard entered her phone number at one or more of these sites promising free content, the complaint says, her mobile account was charged for "unwanted mobile content services in the form of 'premium text messages.' "

Goddard's attorney is seeking class-action certification on behalf of others believed to have been subject to deceptive mobile phone services that have been advertised on Google.

The complaint speculates that unauthorized charges to members of the affected class exceeded $5,000 over the last year. It also estimates that many if not all of the companies offering such mobile services pay Google in excess of $10,000 each month. The complaint provides no information as to how those figures were arrived at.

The Federal Communications Commission defines unwanted, misleading, or deceptive charges on phone bills as "cramming."

According to a Government Accountability Office report released in February, five experts and nine of the 15 executives interviewed by the GAO were critical of the FCC's efforts to enforce rules against cramming and "slamming," switching phone service without authorization.

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