As part of its ongoing and much-needed efforts to clean up the digital advertising ecosystem, Google blocked and removed 2.7 billion “bad ads” last year, and is actively monitoring advertiser behaviour to protect users from companies looking to capitalize on the ongoing COVID crisis.
“These often come from sophisticated actors attempting to evade our enforcement systems with advanced tactics,” said Scott Spencer, vice-president of product management, ads privacy and safety in a blog post Thursday.
The annual bad ads report also serves as a reminder of just how quickly and ruthlessly fraudsters move to exploit trends, with Spencer noting a “sharp spike” in false ads for highly sought-after products like face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.
These ads promoted products that were “significantly above” market price, misrepresented product quality or ran by merchants that failed to fulfill customer orders, said Spencer.
A dedicated COVID-19 task force, meanwhile, has led to the blocking of “tens of millions” of coronavirus-related ads for a variety of policy violations—including “price-gouging, capitalizing on global medical supply shortages, making misleading claims about cures, and promoting illegitimate unemployment benefits.”
2019 by the numbers
Google says it removed 2.7 billion bad ads—the equivalent of more than 5,000 per minute—and suspended nearly 1 billion advertiser accounts for policy violations last year.
It also terminated more than 1.2 million publisher accounts and removed ads from more than 21 million web pages that are part of its publisher network for violating its advertising policies.
Among the specific areas it cracked down on last year was “phishing,” which involves criminals attempting to extract people’s personal information such as their social insurance number or credit card details under false pretenses. Among the specific tactics it tackled were those attacking people looking to renew their passport with ads that mimicked those for renewal sites.
It also focused on so-called “click-to-trick” ads designed to lure people into interacting with them by using messages designed to look like computer/mobile phone system warnings and featuring prominent links with language like “click here.”
Google assembled an internal team to examine the patterns and signals of these types of fraudulent advertisers in order to identify and remove their ads faster. It says that it saw a nearly 50% decrease in bad ads served in both categories from the previous year, blocking more than 35 million phishing ads and 19 million “trick-to-click” ads.
Finally, Google said that it had taken down nearly 10 million bad ads related to loan services, which it said have been increasing as consumers migrate from brick-and-mortar financial service providers to online options.
Noting an increase in personal loan ads containing misleading information on lending terms, Google broadened its ad policy to only allow for those services to run if an advertiser clearly states all fees, risks and benefits on their website or app, allowing consumers to make “informed decisions.” The 9.6 million takedowns were double the amount for ads of this nature in 2018.