Google blocked 99m misleading COVID-19 ads in 2020

Google blocked more than 99m CVID-19-related ads last year, revealing the high level of misinformation and fraudulent activity from those seeking to exploit the pandemic.

The figure – taken from the Internet giant’s annual Ads Safety Report – comes from efforts by Google to prevent behaviour like price-gouging on in-demand products like hand sanitizer and masks, and cracking down ads promoting false cures or counterfeit COVID-19 tests, treatments or vaccines.

“Often when we experience a major event like the pandemic, bad actors look for ways to take advantage of people online,” said  Scott Spencer, Google’s vice president, Ads Privacy & Safety, in a blog post.

“We saw an uptick in opportunistic advertising and fraudulent behaviour from actors looking to mislead users last year,” he added.

“Increasingly, we’ve seen them use cloaking to hide from our detection, promote non-existent virtual businesses or run ads for phone-based scams to either hide from detection or lure unsuspecting consumers off our platforms with an aim to defraud them.”

The company says it has rolled out new measures to try to tackle this form of ad fraud, including an advertiser identity verification programme that seeks to prevent ads being taken out anonymously.

Anti-Counterfeit Packaging Market by Technology, End-Use Industry and Region - Global Forecast to 2025

All told, Google blocked 3.1bn ads last year, including 1.2m for counterfeit goods across all categories, restricted another 6.4bn, and took enforcement action against 626,000 website for intellectual property (IP) abuses.

Last year, the company also updated its reporting system to allow search engine users to request the review and removal of counterfeit goods that appear in search results.

Despite those efforts, Google and other platforms been criticised for not doing enough to tackle the “systemic problem” of fraudulent ads peddling counterfeits online, in a report published last year by the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT) and American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA).

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