Massive Fine Over Online Gambling Ads in Italy Avoided by Google

Posted on: September 13, 2023, 10:19h.

Last updated on: September 13, 2023, 10:19h.

Alphabet and Google have successfully avoided a €750,000 (US$806,175) fine imposed by the Italian Communications Authority (AGCOM) over alleged violations of advertising laws on YouTube. A court ruling has relieved the companies of any liability.

The Google sign on its offices
The Google sign on its offices. The company won’t have to pay an $800,000 fine in Italy over gambling ads. (Image: Associated Press)

Last year, AGCOM imposed a penalty on Google and advertising partner Top ADS for allegedly violating anti-gambling advertising laws with the presence of such ads on YouTube. However, Google filed an appeal, which was resolved in their favor last week. The court’s decision could have wider implications for other online platforms.

Google Exonerated for YouTube Ads

In its response, the Lazio Regional Administrative Court ruled that Google cannot be held accountable for the ads. The court cited numerous precedents that have consistently determined Google’s role as a mere intermediary.

According to the court, as a hosting provider, Google is protected by Italian and European jurisprudence, and therefore, is not subject to sanctions. Hosting providers only offer virtual space for user-generated content and do not participate directly in any offenses.

The court clarified that hosting providers can be held liable if they fail to promptly remove content when requested by regulators. However, as long as providers take reasonable measures to remove offensive content, they are not held responsible.

In this case, the court found that AGCOM failed to prove Google’s active role in publishing or authoring the content of YouTube videos, leading to the dismissal of AGCOM’s decision.

Google’s Previous Encounter with AGCOM

This is not the first time Google has faced a similar situation in Italy. A few years ago, AGCOM raised concerns about Google’s search engine displaying paid advertisements related to “online casino” (in Italian) in its top results, which was deemed illegal.

In response, AGCOM fined Google €50,000 (US$53,695) twice. Google appealed the fines, and the Lazio Regional Administrative Court ruled in favor of the company, applying a similar legal foundation. The court upheld Google’s status as an intermediary and confirmed that Google promptly removed access to the content upon notification.

The court’s decision in the previous case aligned with the recent ruling, emphasizing Google’s role as an intermediary and its limited liability. The court also rejected Google’s attempt to claim immunity based on its headquarters in Ireland.

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