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Key takeaways from Google’s 2020 ad safety report as hate and fraud cases increase

More hate, more fraud, more work to do: takeaways from Google’s 2020 ad safety report

Google has released its annual Ads Safety Report, which details how it policed its service during a pandemic. Notably, the service detected and acted on more hate, and fraudulent schemes throughout (often inspired by pandemic profiteering).

The document penned by Scott Spencer, vice president of ads privacy and safety at Google, said: “In 2020, our policies and enforcement were put to the test as we collectively navigated a global pandemic, multiple elections around the world and the continued fight against bad actors looking for new ways to take advantage of people online.”

The Drum dives into the biggest findings from the report.

The approach

  • The pandemic threw up a bunch of new challenges to police fraudulent behavior, particularly around ads selling price-gouging products like N-95 masks, fake cures, and fake vaccine treatments.

  • 99m Covid-related ads were blocked, just a small portion of the 3.1bn ads that Google removed for violating policies. It says that’s 5,900 per minute, showing the scale of the company, and rule-breaking ads.

  • 6.4bn ads were 'restricted', 1.7m advertiser accounts were suspended for “egregious” policy violations”.

  • More than 40 new policies were added or updated.

  • Meanwhile, the balance between brand safety and publisher monetization raged on. Google removed ads from over 1.3bn pages (21m more than 2019) It took “site-level action” on nearly 1.6m publishers. This list of publishers would be an interesting, and long, read.

  • Then there was the volatile US elections. Tech giants urged to freeze political advertising. Google says it had verified over 5,400 election advertisers. It temporarily paused more than 5m election ads and blocked ads on over 3bn Search queries immediately following the election. It launched political ad libraries in the US, UK, EU, India, Israel, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand.

How it changed

  • Google says it increasingly had to tailor its ad product based on geography, local laws, and its 2020-launched certification programs designed to police placements in health and pharma in particular.

  • Spencer said: “Over the past several years, we’ve seen an increase in country-specific ad regulations, and restricting ads allows us to help advertisers follow these requirements regionally with minimal impact on their broader campaigns.

  • There was an “uptick in opportunistic advertising and fraudulent behavior from actors looking to mislead users last year.” They used cloaking, represented fake platforms, and tried to take users off-platform to operate scams (by phone was the given example).

  • To handle fraud, advertiser identity programs were stepped up. Tech was implemented to find the tell-tale signs of these scams, and the review process operated by humans and algorithms were adjusted accordingly, Google says.

  • 70% more ad accounts disabled for policy violations to more than over 1.7m.

  • Google also detected more hate speech and calls to violence. It “took action” on nearly 168m pages.

  • “We will continue to invest in policies, our team of experts and enforcement technology to stay ahead of potential threats. We also remain steadfast on our path to scale our verification programs around the world in order to increase transparency and make more information about the ad experience universally available,” concluded Spencer.

  • Google's ad policies come under close scrutiny as one of the largest beneficiaries of digital ad spend in the world. Anti-trust agencies probe the company's practises while it threatens to upturn the world of digital advertising by phasing out third-party cookies in the Chrome browser - all in the name of consumer privacy.

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