Google ad ban 'unlawful' ... Fiona Patten of the Australian Sex Party. Photo: Ellen Lutton
The Australian Sex Party this morning lodged formal complaints against Google with the US Department of Justice and the Australian competition watchdog, accusing the search giant of corrupt practices and unlawfully interfering with the conduct of a recent Victorian byelection.
The Sex Party says Google refused to run its advertisements in the lead-up to the July 12 byelection for the state seat of Melbourne.
Its ads were also refused during the last federal election.
Emails seen by Fairfax show Facebook also rejected Sex Party ads during the recent City of Sydney Council elections. Facebook accused the party of promoting “adult products or services”.
In a letter to the fraud section of the US Department of Justice seen by Fairfax, Australian Sex Party president Fiona Patten accuses Google of “unlawful interference in the conduct of a state election in Victoria” and having "corrupt intent".
She says Google treated the Sex Party differently to other political parties and refused to budge when it was pointed out that Google had incorrectly applied its own policies.
“By engaging in wrongful conduct against the Sex Party, Google has provided an advantage to the Labor Party and the Greens,” Ms Patten says in the letter.
“With the Greens holding the balance of power in the Senate and the federal government relying on the Greens support, and the federal government considering legislation and policies that will affect the business operations of Google, it must be to the benefit of Google to have treated the Greens favourably.
“Further, Google has given to the Greens something that it has said is contrary to its policy.”
Ms Patten finished third in the Melbourne byelection behind the successful candidate, Labor's Jennifer Kanis, and the Greens' Cathy Oke. She received 1832 votes.
Google rejected the Sex Party's ads for AdWords (Google's main advertising product), or sponsored search results, saying they breached its rules which prevent solicitation of donations by a website that did not display tax exempt status.
In the letter Ms Patten argues that the Greens, Labor and Family First all had donations buttons on their sites and none had tax deductibility information. She says Google continued to ban the ads after the Sex Party amended its website to state that donations under $1500 to political parties were tax-deductible.
Ms Patten said her team attempted to rectify the situation numerous times over the phone and by email in the lead-up to the byelection but the requests were ignored or denied.
The Sex Party ads were reinstated on election eve after Fairfax reported that the party was considering suing Google.
In a separate letter to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission general manager Paul Zawa, Ms Patten accuses Google of “misleading and deceptive conduct”.
She says Google's actions could have led to an "unfair result" if the Greens had won the seat, given that the Sex Party had directed preferences to Labor.
In a response sent to the Sex Party last night, Google said it took the allegations very seriously and violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act were prohibited under Google's "code of conduct".
"Therefore an investigation into the allegations and the circumstances outlined in your complaints will be taking place," Google wrote.
"During that investigation you may be asked to provide further information and you will of course be contacted once the review is complete. Thank you for your patience during that time."