Google cracks down on bad ads, deleting almost 2bn

Internet giant Google suspended around 6,000 websites and 6,000 accounts last year that attempted to advertise counterfeit goods on its platform.

The numbers were revealed in the search engine's Bad Ads report for last year, which details the extent to which Google cracks down on malicious and scam ads.

In 2016, the firm deleted a total of 1.7bn ads that violated its advertising policies – more than double the number of bad ads that were removed in 2015.

Ads that Google suspended include those that promote illegal products, such as pharmaceuticals, and unrealistic offers, scams or counterfeit products, self-clicking ads, and those that trick people into sharing personal information or infect devices with harmful software, as well as those that deliberately attempt to trick Google's detection systems.

"A free and open web is a vital resource for people and businesses around the world," said Scott Spencer, director of product management, sustainable ads, at Google. "Ads play a key role in ensuring you have access to accurate, quality information online. But bad ads can ruin the online experience for everyone. Ultimately, bad ads pose a threat to users, Google's partners, and the sustainability of the open web itself."

Google doesn't just disable bad ads, it also occasionally blocks the website promoted in the ad as well as the advertisers' account, preventing them from advertising again. As a result, the internet giant pulled about 6,000 websites and 6,000 accounts that were advertising fake goods, such bogus luxury watches. The numbers highlight the growing problem of counterfeiters moving to the online and social media space following consumers online shopping habits.

Likewise, Google has cracked down on internet pharmacies and advertisements for pharmaceuticals, many of which end up being counterfeit. The search engine has had a policy for some time against ads for pharmaceuticals, but the firm says it has noticed a large increase in such ads last year. It disabled more than 68 million bad ads for healthcare violations, up from 12.5m in 2015.

The internet giant has also been focusing on Google AdSense and the websites that earn money from using the service, which places ads on websites. In November and December last year, after implementing a new policy, Google reviewed 550 AdSense-using websites that were suspected of deceiving users or misrepresenting website content, including impersonating news organisations, falsely implying an affiliation with an individual, organisation, or brand, or those offering falsified documents. Google says it took action against 340 of the websites for violating policies and nearly 200 were kicked off the network permanently.

Other figures for the number of ads disabled included: more than 5m payday loan ads; more than 17m ads for illegal gambling violations; nearly 80m ads for deceiving, misleading and shocking users; 23,000 self-clicking ads; 7m ads for intentionally attempting to trick Google's detection systems; 112m ads for "trick to click" that trick users into clicking ads that then download harmful software or malware (six times more than 2015); and 47,000 websites promoting content and products related to weight loss scams were removed.

Google has also found an increase in the number of tabloid cloakers, which are scams that pretend to be news but when the user clicks on it they aren't taken to a news story but rather, for example, a site selling weight-loss products. Last year, Google suspended more than 1,300 accounts in regards to tabloid scams.

The increase in the number of bad ads that Google removed last year compared with the previous year was largely in part to expanding advertising policies, including a ban on ads for payday loans, and "beefing up" the technology to spot and disable bad ads faster.

"While we took down more bad ads in 2016 than ever before, the battle doesn't end here," said Spencer. "As we invest in better detection, the scammers invest in more elaborate attempts to trick our systems. Continuing to find and fight them is essential to protecting people online and ensuring you get the very best from the open web."

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