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Google Gets Madder At Bad Ads

Max 'Beast from the East' Smolaks covers open source, public sector, startups and technology of the future at TechWeekEurope. If you find him looking lost on the streets of London, feed him coffee and sugar.

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Google may have profited from bad ads in the past, but it is cleaning up its act

Google has announced changes to its advertising system which should decrease the number of links leading to nasty websites selling counterfeit goods or spreading malware.

The new features include proactive monitoring of sensitive keywords, an updated “risk model” and a 24-hour response time for complaints, according to a post on the company’s official blog.

Bad ads

Google claimed its current advertising policy was created with trust and safety in mind. In theory, it doesn’t allow ads for illegal products such as counterfeit goods, or harmful products such as handguns or cigarettes. It also blocks ads which contain misleading claims, lead to fraudulent work-at-home scams or use unclear billing practices. But in real life, the policy doesn’t seem to have worked that well.

In August 2011, Google had to pay $500m (£303m) to the US Department of Justice, in order to settle allegations that it allowed Canadian online pharmacies to target ads at US consumers. Shipping prescription drugs to US customers from outside the country is a violation of several federal laws.

In January 2012, Google admitted to making money from illegal Olympic ticket touts advertising on its search engine. The company also benefitted from other illegal enterprises such as sales of fake IDs and cannabis, but has claimed it is unable to monitor every business that advertises with it.

Then last month, Google was taken to court by Montblanc, the German manufacturer of writing instruments, watches and other accessories, over counterfeiters using the AdWords program to sell fake goods.

A lot of search engine users wrongly think that because advertising links have been promoted to the top of the page, they lead to a trusted site. Most of the Google Ads system is automated, which means that almost anyone can purchase advertising connected to relevant search results.

Regaining trust

Hence why Google has moved to overhaul the ad system and the solutions it employs to keep search users safe.

Firstly, the company has improved the “query watch” for counterfeit ads. While anyone can report counterfeit ads, Google has widened the proactive monitoring of especially sensitive keywords and queries related to counterfeit goods (like the Olympic tickets or Montblanc pens). This should allow it to catch more counterfeit ads before they appear in search results.

Google recently upgraded the engineering system with a new automated “risk model”, designed to determine whether a particular ad may violate advertising policies. It has also re-worked the internal processes and systems for manual reviews, allowing real people to be quicker and more precise at ad classification.

Finally, the company has introduced the 24-hour response time in which it aims to review an ad upon receiving a reliable complaint.

“Just as we work hard to make Gmail free of spam and the Google Play Store free of malware, we’re committed to enforcing rigorous standards for the ads that appear on Google and on our partner sites,” said Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior vice president of engineering at Google.

Statistics indicate that despite a number of famous errors, Google’s system works well. In 2011, advertisers submitted billions of ads to Google, and out of those, it disabled more than 130 million. Compared with 2010, the percentage of bad ads was reduced by more than 50 percent.

Last year, Google shut down approximately 150,000 accounts for attempting to advertise counterfeit goods, and more than 95 percent of these accounts were discovered through its own detection efforts and risk models.

The company stressed that any user can report ads they believe to be fraudulent or in violation of Google’s policies and, if needed, file a complaint with the appropriate agency.

You can watch a video explaining how Google detects and removes scam ads below:

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