Google has been urged to stop accepting money from Viagogo to place the ticket website at the top of its search rankings, in an open letter signed by the Football Association, several MPs and trade body UK Music.
The letter, sent to senior Google executives on Friday and seen by the Guardian, says that Viagogo’s prominence in search rankings is leading to consumers buying sports, music and theatre tickets that may be invalid.
The signatories also voiced concern that fans are being directed to the site, a common conduit for touts to resell tickets at vast markups, even when face-value tickets are still on sale elsewhere.
|Google’s guidelines say companies using AdWords must comply with local laws. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
The search engine company may be breaching its own guidelines, which demand that companies who buy prominence in search results via Google’s pay-per-click AdWords service must “comply with local laws”, according to the letter. The letter cites legal proceedings brought against Viagogo by the Competition and Markets Authority last month for potential breaches of consumer law.
“In effect, one of the world’s most trusted brands – Google – is being paid to actively promote one of the least trusted,” the letter says. “We understand that Viagogo is a valuable client to Google, spending considerable sums each year on paid search advertising. However, we urge you to protect consumers who daily put their trust in Google, and act now to restrict Viagogo’s ability to pay for prominence.”
The UK website of Viagogo, which has faced a barrage of criticism for controversial business practices, derives 75% of its website traffic from search engine referrals, according to data analysis website SimilarWeb.
Labour MP Sharon Hodgson, one of the letter’s signatories, said: “I have heard too many times from distressed customers of Viagogo that they were led to the website because it was at the top of their Google search. It is totally wrong that a trusted website like Google would direct consumers to such an untrustworthy website.
“Google needs to take action in order to protect consumers, and I look forward to working with them on this in the very near future.”
In February 2018, Google launched a new certification system for ticket resellers, with the aim of providing clearer information for consumers. But the letter calls for Google to go further and ban Viagogo from using AdWords, which allows companies to leapfrog to the top of search results, in exchange for a fee every time someone clicks on the paid-for link.
The letter has 24 signatories, including a host of MPs, trade bodies and associations from the worlds of sports, theatre and music.
Sporting bodies that have signed include the Football Association, England and Wales Cricket Board, Rugby Football Union and Lawn Tennis Association.
Signatories from the world of music include UK Music chief executive Michael Dugher and Music Managers Forum chief Annabella Coldrick, while the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre – as well as ticketing trade body Star – have also signed.
A Google spokesperson said: “The CMA has been looking at the business practices of ticket resellers. We await the conclusion of these inquiries and we hope that they will clarify the rules in the interests of consumers. We will abide by the rulings of these inquiries and local law.”The Guardian
Damian Collins MP, chair of the department for culture, media and sport select committee, last week joined digital minister Margot James MP in urging consumers not to use the site, after the company did not turn up to a parliamentary hearing for the second time in two years.
Viagogo cited legal restrictions due to the proceedings brought against the company by the Competition and Markets Authority.
It also pointed to its own lawsuit, launched on the eve of the hearing, in which it accused singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s promotion company Kilimanjaro Live of illegally cancelling thousands of tickets and pocketing the money.
Kilimanjaro Live chief executive Stuart Galbraith branded the suit ludicrous.