Google criticised for selling 'irresponsible' search ads to fraudsters

Google

Despite a pledge to crack down on ‘bad ads’, Google is under scrutiny after it gave the green light to advertising space at the top of search results against terms like: ‘buy fake passport’; ‘buy fake reviews’; and ‘fake visa’.

The tech giant has once again found itself in the firing line of an exposé from The Times, after the paper created a ‘bogus website’ which then bought ad space against a series of questionable search terms for the cost of up to £1 per-click.

The report claims that a Google employee emailed to offer consultation to get the fake website ‘the best results for its business’, though it wasn't clear if they had actually looked at the URL.

Google said that in 2017 it removed more than 3.2 billion ads that violated its ad policies, or around 100 bad ads per-second. That included ads that "deceived or enabled dishonest behaviour”.

In a statement, the company said that on this occasion its systems didn’t work correctly and said it had taken action to address it by blocking the ads from appearing under the search terms highlighted.

Despite Google's action, the report raises questions around its advertising vetting processes, which have come under greater scrutiny from chief marketing officers over the past 24 months in light of a series of brand safety crises that saw giants like Mars and Adidas freeze ad spend across Google’s display network and YouTube.

Lord Harris of Haringey, chairman of the National Trading Standards (NTS) said the fact Google was profiting from selling against these terms was “wrong and irresponsible”.

The latest investigation follows on from a report in August that Google was inadvertently making money by placing adverts from websites that sell fake reviews.

Departure of advertising boss

The latest exposé into the advertising division comes as the head of Google’s global ad business Sridhar Ramaswamy departs for Silicon Valley venture capital firm Greylock Partners.

Ramaswamy has been replaced by Prabhakar Raghavan, the vice president of engineering for Google's Cloud apps.

"I have been extremely privileged to have spent the past 15 years at Google, where I focused on starting and scaling new businesses and platforms,” he said of his departure.

"I have always been drawn to earlier stage entrepreneurial projects and becoming a venture partner at Greylock is an exceptional way to explore these types of opportunities."

Ramaswamy joined Google in 2003 and has led its advertising business – which delivered over $95bn in revenue last year – for the past five years.

Get The Drum Newsletter

Build your marketing knowledge by choosing from daily news bulletins or a weekly special.