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Google criticised for PPC ads targeting addicts


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

January 7, 2018 | 3 min read

Google has come under fire from the UK government for a practice which sees it make £200 every time someone clicks on an advert offering treatment for addictive diseases.


Google criticised for PPC ads targeting addicts

A Sunday Times investigation found that the ads come from “referral agents”, which are masquerading as free advice helplines. These agents are charged £200 by Google every time someone clicks on one of their promoted links.

The middleman – used by private hospitals like Priory Group, Gladstones, Charterhouse, Regain Recovery and Bayberry – is able to afford the high rates as they can receive as much as £20,000 in commission by referring just one caller to a private clinic.

This has been blamed for driving the massive increase in the cost of private care for people suffering from addictions.

The practice of running ads from referral agents is banned in many American states.

Though not illegal in the UK, the chair of the health select committee, Sarah Wollaston MP, criticised Google and called on the internet giant to stop selling ads to these middlemen.

“The level of payments for these referral agents via promoted links cannot be justified in my view especially as those desperate to tackle their addictions are unknowingly picking up the bill," she said.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health said: “It is disheartening that those seeking privately funded help for their addiction are potentially being exploited.”

In a statement given to The Drum, Google said it has decided to follow the US and "restrict" ads in this category.

“We work to help healthcare providers - from doctors to hospitals and treatment centers- get online and connect with people who need their help. Substance abuse is a growing crisis and has led to deceptive practices by intermediaries that we need to better understand," a spokesperson said.

"In the US, we restricted ads entirely in this category and we have decided to extend this to the UK as we consult with local experts to update our policy and find a better way to connect those that need help with the treatment they need.”

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