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Google Admits Profiting From Illegal Ads

Steve McCaskill is editor of TechWeekEurope and ChannelBiz. He joined as a reporter in 2011 and covers all areas of IT, with a particular interest in telecommunications, mobile and networking, along with sports technology.

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Google benefits from Olympic touts and cannabis salesmen, but says it is not responsible for the actions of its advertisers

Google has admitted to making money from illegal Olympic ticket touts advertising on its search engine.

The company also benefits from other illegal enterprises such as fake IDs and cannabis, but has claimed that it is unable to monitor every business that advertises with it.

Olympic-sized Scam

The latest accusations were brought to light when a listener called into BBC Radio 5 Live’s Investigation’s show complaining about a fake Olympic ticket site, which was promoted to the top of Google’s search results.

The caller, identified only as Liz, said that she clicked the sponsored advert link for LiveOlympic Tickets, thinking that because it had been promoted to the top of the page, it was a trusted site.

Liz spent £750 on two tickets for the 1500 metres final, but alerted Radio 5 live when the company demanded that she fax a copy of her signature so that they could complete the ticket transaction. She has so far been unable to retrieve her money.

Google said that it was not responsible or able to monitor the actions of every company that uses its services, but did not remove the listing until one week after it was informed by the Metropolitan police about LiveOlympic Tickets.

“We have a set of policies covering which ads can and cannot show on Google,” said a Google spokesman. “These policies and guidelines are enforced by both automated systems and human beings. When we are informed of ads which break our policies, we investigate and remove them if appropriate. For example, working with the police, we have recently taken down a number of violating Olympics ads.”

This is not the first time that Google’s advertising policy has been subject to scrutiny. Last August it was forced to pay $500 million (£303m) to the US Department of Justice after allegations that it allowed Canadian online pharmacies to target adverts at American customers, while it has also been criticised for the quality of its search results.

Google makes much of its revenue from online advertising, but has been challenged in recent years by Facebook thanks to its like button and social tools. However, one area it still has an advantage is mobile with its Android mobile operating system, leading to some analysts to suggest that Facebook needs a smartphone to properly take on Google.