Back in 2008, Google was sued by a group of California advertisers over their ad placement practices. The group alleged that Google had misled them by failing to inform them fully of where their purchased AdWords ads would end up, resulting in wasted ad investment and even bad press, in some instances. The circle of ad firms fought to bring a class action lawsuit against Google over the issue, but eventually hit a wall because of a precedent set in the court system in 2011 with a case against Wal-Mart by its employees. In essence, a class action lawsuit can only happen if each member stands to be owed a roughly equivalent amount by the plaintiff, allowing equal distribution of winnings in court. When an appeals court overturned that notion and allowed the advertisers to band together against Google, the search giant took their plight to the U.S. Supreme Court. News broke on Monday that the court refused to hear their appeal.
The particular issue in question is that ads that Google sold wound up in two types of places where they would do advertisers little good and possibly drum up bad press. The ads could be seen on error pages on some sites, minimizing their chances of being seen at all and, for the most part, having users associate the advertised products with the annoyance of an error message. The ads also found themselves on parked domains, which are mirrored or non-functional domains that often have either no content and all or just ads, and are used to secure domain names for future use or keep them from being misused in a way that would tarnish the actual page's image.
Users typically reach these pages by following dead links or mistyping a URL, which, like error pages, minimizes a user's chance of seeing an ad and makes it synonymous with annoyance. For the moment, Google has nothing to say about the issue, nor do any of the advertisers or law firms involved. The overturning of established precedent, essentially unwritten law, is quite significant and, whatever the outcome or implications of the case itself may be, will likely have far-reaching long-term effects.