Google suspends ticketing firm Viagogo as an advertiser

Edmund Heaphy
Finance and news reporter
The UK's live music industry is facing "stark challenges". Photo: Getty

Google (GOOG) confirmed on Wednesday that it had suspended Viagogo as an advertiser amid controversy over illegal touting on the ticketing firm’s website.

As part of its probe into practices at Viagogo, MPs earlier this year accused the search giant of repeatedly allowing tickets to be sold in breach of consumer protection law.

The move will likely be a huge blow to Viagogo, whose ads consistently appear at the top of search listings for major concerts.

Fans have reportedly paid hundreds more than the standard ticket prices, in part because Viagogo’s website only reveals booking fees, delivery charges, and VAT prices at the last stage of the booking process.

“When people use our platform for help in purchasing tickets, we want to make sure that they have an experience they can trust,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

“This is why we have strict policies and take necessary action when we find an advertiser in breach.”

In a statement, Viagogo, which is based in Geneva, said it was “extremely surprised to learn of Google’s concerns today.”

“We are confident that there has been no breach of Google’s policies and look forward to working with them to resolve this as quickly as possible,” it said.

MPs in March welcomed Google’s measures to “increase transparency around secondary ticket selling.”

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But it urged the search giant to take further action, and called on the government to set out the responsibilities of companies like Google to ensure advertisements comply with the law.

Earlier this month, the UK’s competition regulator asked the high court to find Viagogo in contempt of court, saying it had ignored a court order and repeated warnings to comply with consumer protection law.

In November, the Competition and Markets Authority secured a landmark court order against the firm — something that was supposed to force the firm to provide consumers with more information when they purchase tickets.

Google said on Wednesday that it was having “ongoing conversations” with the regulator about Viagogo’s advertising practices.

In March, the digital, culture, media and sport committee of the House of Commons urged fans to boycott Viagogo, saying it had ignored warnings.

In what it called a “highly unusual” step, it told consumers not to buy or sell tickets on the site until it complied with consumer protection law.

Viagogo had “caused distress for too many music fans for too long,” it said.

“We believe that Viagogo has yet to prove itself a trustworthy operator given its history of resisting compliance, court orders and parliamentary scrutiny, and flouting consumer law,” the committee said.

Under the high court order, Viagogo was told to warn customers if there is a risk they will be turned away from a concert venue, and which seat they will get in the venue.

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It also told the ticketing firm to disclose the identity of those selling tickets, and to make it clear if the seller was a professional ticket tout.

Last year, an open letter signed by the Football Association, several MPs, and representative body UK Music urged Google to stop accepting advertising from Viagogo.

The dressing-down of the ticketing firm by the House of Commons committee came as part of a review into the future of the UK’s live music industry, which it said was “facing stark challenges”.

“Bad experiences with ticket resale platforms are damaging trust in the industry, smaller music venues are closing at an unprecedented rate, and the future of the talent pipeline is at risk,” it said.