afaqs! news bureau

Google's initiative against bad ads in the times of coronavirus

In a blog posted by Scott Spencer, vice president of product management, ads privacy and safety - Google talks about the initiatives against ad fraud.

When looking for information, the search engine that people most commonly turn to, is Google. "We’re committed to ensuring they can trust the ads they see on our platforms, too. This commitment is especially important in times of uncertainty, such as the past few months as the world has confronted COVID-19," writes Spencer in a blog post.

Below are edited excerpts from the post, mentioning what action the search engine is taking, to fight fraudulent ads.

Responding to COVID-19

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, Google has been closely monitoring advertiser behaviour to protect users from ads looking to take advantage of the crisis. The post added that these advertisements often come from sophisticated actors attempting to evade the enforcement systems with advanced tactics. "For example, as the situation evolved, we saw a sharp spike in fraudulent ads for in-demand products like face masks. These ads promoted products listed significantly above market price, misrepresented the product quality to trick people into making a purchase or were placed by merchants who never fulfilled the orders," writes Spencer.

The post informs readers that Google has a dedicated COVID-19 task force that’s been working around the clock to build new detection technology and improve existing enforcement systems to stop bad actors. "We’ve blocked and removed tens of millions of coronavirus-related ads over the past few months for policy violations including price-gouging, capitalising on global medical supply shortages, making misleading claims about cures and promoting illegitimate unemployment benefits," mentions Spencer.

"The coronavirus has also become an important and enduring topic in everyday conversation and we’re working on ways to allow advertisers across industries to share relevant updates with their audiences. Over the past several weeks, for example, we’ve specifically helped NGOs, governments, hospitals and healthcare providers run PSAs. We continue to take a measured approach to adjust our enforcement to ensure that we are protecting users while prioritizing critical information from trusted advertisers," reads the post.

Preserving the integrity of the ecosystem

In 2019, Google blocked and removed 2.7 billion bad ads—that’s more than 5000 bad ads per minute. It also suspended nearly 1 million advertiser accounts for policy violations. On the publisher side, Google had terminated over 1.2 million accounts and removed ads from over 21 million web pages that are part of its publisher network for violating ad-fraud policies. "Terminating accounts—not just removing an individual ad or page—is an especially effective enforcement tool that we use if advertisers or publishers engage in egregious policy violations or have a history of violating policy," reiterates the post.

Improving enforcement against phishing and "trick-to-click" ads

If it finds that specific categories of ads are more prone to abuse, Google claims to prioritise its resources to prevent bad actors from taking advantage of users. Spencer mentions that one of the areas that the company has become familiar with is phishing - a common practice used by deceptive players to collect personal information from users under false pretenses. "For example, in 2019 we saw more bad actors targeting people seeking to renew their passport. 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. Another common area of abuse is “trick-to-click” ads—which are designed to trick people into interacting with them by using prominent links (for example, “click here”) often designed to look like computer or mobile phone system warnings. Because we’ve come to expect certain recurring categories like phishing and “trick-to-click,” we’re able to more effectively fight them," writes Spencer.

In 2019, Google assembled an internal team to track the patterns and signals of these types of fraudulent advertisers so it could identify and remove their ads faster. As a result, it saw nearly a 50 per cent decrease of bad ads served in both categories from the previous year. In total, we blocked more than 35 million phishing ads and 19 million “trick-to-click” ads in 2019.

Adapting policies and technology in real time

Certain industries are particularly susceptible to malicious behavior. For example, as more consumers turn to online financial services over brick and mortar locations, Google identified an increase in personal loan ads with misleading information on lending terms. To combat this, it broadened its policy to only allow loan-related ads to run if the advertiser clearly states all fees, risks and benefits on their website or app so that users can make informed decisions. This updated policy enabled the search engine to take down 9.6 million of these types of bad ads in 2019.

At the end of 2019, Google also introduced a certification program for debt management advertisers in select countries that offer to negotiate with creditors to remedy debt or credit problems. "We know users looking for help with this are often at their most vulnerable and we want to create a safe experience for them. This new program ensures we’re only allowing advertisers who are registered by the local regulatory agencies to serve ads for this type of service. We’re continuing to explore ways to scale this program to more countries to match local finance regulations," writes Spencer.

Looking forward

Maintaining trust in the digital advertising ecosystem is a top priority for Google. With global health concerns now top of mind for everyone, preparing for and responding to attempts to take advantage of users is as important as it has ever been. Spencer acknowledges that abuse tactics will continue evolving and new societal issues will arise. "We'll continue to make sure we’re protecting our users, advertisers and publishers from bad actors across our advertising platforms," he concludes.