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Stopping Bad Ads To Protect Users

People trust Google when they’re looking for information, and we’re committed to ensuring they can trust the ads they see on our platforms, too. This commitment is especially important in times of uncertainty, such as the past few months as the world has confronted COVID-19. 

Responding to COVID-19

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve closely monitored advertiser behavior to protect users from ads looking to take advantage of the crisis. These often come from sophisticated actors attempting to evade our enforcement systems with advanced tactics. For example, as the situation evolved, we saw a sharp spike in fraudulent ads for in-demand products like face masks. These ads promoted products listed significantly above market price, misrepresented the product quality to trick people into making a purchase or were placed by merchants who never fulfilled the orders. 

We have a dedicated COVID-19 task force that’s been working around the clock. They have built new detection technology and have also improved our existing enforcement systems to stop bad actors. These concerted efforts are working. We’ve blocked and removed tens of millions of coronavirus-related ads over the past few months for policy violations including price-gouging, capitalizing on global medical supply shortages, making misleading claims about cures and promoting illegitimate unemployment benefits.

Simultaneously, the coronavirus has become an important and enduring topic in everyday conversation and we’re working on ways to allow advertisers across industries to share relevant updates with their audiences. Over the past several weeks, for example, we’ve specifically helped NGOs, governments, hospitals and healthcare providers run PSAs. We continue to take a measured approach to adjusting our enforcement to ensure that we are protecting users while prioritizing critical information from trusted advertisers.

Preserving the integrity of the ecosystem

Preserving the integrity of the ads on our platforms, as we’re doing during the COVID-19 outbreak, is a continuation of the work we do every day to minimize content that violates our policies and stop malicious actors. We have thousands of people working across our teams to make sure we’re protecting our users and enabling a safe ecosystem for advertisers and publishers, and each year we share a summary of the work we’ve done.

In 2019, we blocked and removed 2.7 billion bad ads—that’s more than 5,000 bad ads per minute. We also suspended nearly 1 million advertiser accounts for policy violations. On the publisher side, we terminated over 1.2 million accounts and removed ads from over 21 million web pages that are part of our publisher network for violating our policies. Terminating accounts—not just removing an individual ad or page—is an especially effective enforcement tool that we use if advertisers or publishers engage in egregious policy violations or have a history of violating policy.

Google Ads Manager: 2.7 billion taken down

Improving enforcement against phishing and “trick-to-click” ads 

If we find specific categories of ads are more prone to abuse, we prioritize our resources to prevent bad actors from taking advantage of users. One of the areas that we’ve become familiar with is phishing, a common practice used by deceptive players to collect personal information from users under false pretenses. For example, in 2019 we saw more bad actors targeting people seeking to renew their passport. These ads mimicked real ads for renewal sites but their actual intent was to get users to provide sensitive information such as their social security or credit card number. Another common area of abuse is “trick-to-click” ads—which are designed to trick people into interacting with them by using prominent links (for example, “click here”) often designed to look like computer or mobile phone system warnings.

Because we’ve come to expect certain recurring categories like phishing and “trick-to-click,” we’re able to more effectively fight them. In 2019, we assembled an internal team to track the patterns and signals of these types of fraudulent advertisers so we could identify and remove their ads faster. As a result, we saw nearly a 50 percent decrease of bad ads served in both categories from the previous year. In total, we blocked more than 35 million phishing ads and 19 million “trick-to-click” ads in 2019.

Google Ads Manager: Top Internet Safety Offenders

Adapting our policies and technology in real time

Certain industries are particularly susceptible to malicious behavior. For example, as more consumers turn to online financial services over brick and mortar locations, we identified an increase in personal loan ads with misleading information on lending terms. To combat this, we broadened our policy to only allow loan-related ads to run if the advertiser clearly states all fees, risks and benefits on their website or app so that users can make informed decisions. This updated policy enabled us to take down 9.6 million of these types of bad ads in 2019, doubling our number from 2018. 

At the end of last year, we also introduced a certification program for debt management advertisers in select countries that offer to negotiate with creditors to remedy debt or credit problems. We know users looking for help with this are often at their most vulnerable and we want to create a safe experience for them. This new program ensures we’re only allowing advertisers who are registered by the local regulatory agencies to serve ads for this type of service. We’re continuing to explore ways to scale this program to more countries to match local finance regulations. 

Looking forward

Maintaining trust in the digital advertising ecosystem is a top priority for Google. And with global health concerns now top of mind for everyone, preparing for and responding to attempts to take advantage of our users is as important as it has ever been. We know abuse tactics will continue evolving and new societal issues will arise. We’ll continue to make sure we’re protecting our users, advertisers and publishers from bad actors across our advertising platforms.

Source: Official Google Webmasters Blog

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  1. Its amazing what people will do to get a click anymore these days. I mean our ads are meant to draw you in, but nothing that is misleading by any means. We always want our business practices to reflect the kind of people we are that run it, because things like that always come back and bite you in the rear end.

    1. Yes, Raymond. Unfortunately, there are always some looking to take advantage of any situation for their own gain. That’s why it’s important for platforms like Google to have dedicated teams and advanced technology to detect and remove malicious ads to protect users and maintain the integrity of the advertising ecosystem. It’s a constant battle, but Google’s commitment to this work is crucial to ensuring trust in their platform.

  2. Health is the topmost priority right now. Google should be banning these so-called sophisticated advertisers. They should be penalized for playing with people’s life.

    1. I completely agree, Walter. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a lot of pressure on individuals, communities, and businesses. It’s reassuring to see that Google is taking proactive measures to ensure the integrity of their platform and protect users from fraudulent and harmful advertising practices. Their dedicated COVID-19 task force and continuous adaptation of policies and technology to combat malicious behavior is commendable. Overall, it’s important for companies to prioritize the well-being and safety of their users, especially during times of uncertainty and crisis.

  3. Debt management advertisement policies are certainly good initiatives in some regions! It’s time to go global now.

    1. Agree, Justin! The certification program for debt management advertisers and the updated policy on personal loan ads are good initiatives by Google to ensure that users are not misled by such ads. It’s important for digital platforms like Google to take proactive measures to prevent bad actors from taking advantage of users and to maintain trust in the digital advertising ecosystem.

  4. Blocking & removing bad ads is just one way to minimize the damage. There should be more involvement from law enforcement agencies.

    1. That’s correct, Eric. Blocking and removing bad ads is just one way to maintain the integrity of the digital advertising ecosystem. Google also has dedicated teams that monitor advertiser behavior and build new detection technology to stop bad actors, as well as adapts policies and technology in real time to combat evolving abuse tactics. In addition, Google is working to allow advertisers across industries to share relevant updates with their audiences while taking a measured approach to adjusting enforcement to ensure user protection and prioritizing critical information from trusted advertisers.

  5. Phishing incidence rose a lot in recent times. Even I lost some money recently while buying some pet foods.

    1. Kyle, phishing is unfortunately a common practice used by deceptive players to collect personal information from users under false pretenses, and we’ve seen a rise in these incidents recently. However, Google has been actively working to combat phishing and other fraudulent ads by assembling internal teams to track patterns and signals of fraudulent advertisers, broadening policies to only allow ads with clear information, and introducing certification programs for certain types of advertisers. They also have a dedicated COVID-19 task force that has built new detection technology and improved existing enforcement systems to stop bad actors.

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