Last year, Google says it took down 2.7 billion so-called bad ads for violating the company’s ad policies, according to its annual report released Thursday.
That’s up from the 2.3 billion bad ads Google reported taking down in 2018. The number of ad accounts Google terminated remained relatively flat from the previous year at nearly one million.
Publisher network. Google also noted that it terminated the accounts of more than 1.2 million publishers and removed ads from over 21 million web pages across its publisher network for policy violations.
Targeted areas. Google typically highlights areas of particular focus in its annual bad ads reports. In 2019, the company says it saw an increase in phishing attempts targeting people looking to renew their passports. “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.”
It also cracked down on the kinds of “trick-to-click” ads that are designed to look like computer or phone system warnings as well as an increase in the number of personal loan ads with misleading information on lending terms. Google updated its ad policy to require loan-related advertisers to state all fees, risks and benefits on their website or app.
Coronavirus impact. To address an increase in malicious activity by bad actors during the COVID-19 pandemic, a dedicated team has developed new detection technology and beefed up existing enforcement systems. Google banned ads for face masks globally in March due to a flood of misleading ads.
“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,” wrote Scott Spencer, Google vice president of ads privacy and safety.
At the same time, Google says it is working to allow advertisers to share relevant information about COVID-19. It has enabled PSAs from health organizations, governments and NGOs about relief funds and resources for small businesses, for example.
Why we care. These reports are always a sobering reminder of the scale of effort required to try to keep bad actors out of Google’s (or any) ad system. Google has thousands of people working on ecosystem safety, and yet you’ve likely seen and/or reported bad ads yourself over the past year. These massive numbers that Google releases every year are little consolation to legitimate advertisers that find themselves competing against the bad actors that get past Google’s systems. The coronavirus crisis is yet another example of how quickly opportunists move in and the challenges involved in adapting existing or creating new systems to stop them. There continued to be examples of ads for masks getting through several weeks after the ban went into effect, for example.
Last week, Google announced it will be phasing in its advertiser verification program beyond political advertisers. Advertisers will be required to submit business incorporation documents and other identifying information in order to be verified. Users will be able to check the business name and country in a disclosure on verified advertisers’ ads.