6 types of misleading ads, sites, and scammers Google took down last year

Google Inc. wants you to know it’s leading the fight against less-than-scrupulous advertisers and their work.

The company took down 1.7 billion ads that violated its advertising policies in 2016 – more than double the number taken down in 2015.

“If you spent one second taking down each of those bad ads, it’d take you more than 50 years to finish,” Scott Spencer, director of product management with Google Canada’s Sustainable Ads division, wrote in a Jan. 25 blog post.

Though Google employs a strict code of ethics designed to protect users from “misleading, inappropriate, or harmful” ads, it doesn’t stop certain parties from promoting illegal products or unrealistic offers, or from tricking users into sharing personal information or infecting their computers or mobile devices with a virus.

“Ultimately, bad ads pose a threat to users, Google’s partners, and the sustainability of the open web itself,” he wrote.

To address the problem in 2016, Spencer wrote, Google expanded its policies to better protect users from misleading and predatory offers – for example, banning ads for payday loans in July, which subsequently resulted in 5 million payday loan ads disabled – and improved its technology to identify and disable misleading ads, such as the “trick to click” ads which often appear as “system warnings” but cause users to download malware.

In 2016, Google’s systems detected and disabled 112 million “trick to click” ads alone, he noted, six times the number disabled in 2015.

Here are five other examples of misleading ads that Google fought against in 2016:

  • Ads for illegal products: Google disabled more than 68 million ads for violating the company’s healthcare terms, a steep rise from the 12.5 million disabled in 2015. It also took down more than 17 million ads violating its illegal gambling conditions.
  • Misleading ads: “We don’t want you to feel misled by ads that we deliver, so we require our advertisers to provide upfront information for people [to] make informed decisions,” Spencer wrote. Ads that drive clicks by asking, “Are you at risk for this rare, skin-eating disease?” or offering miracle cures that will help you lose 50 pounds in three days by swallowing a pill are on Google’s hit list: the company took down nearly 80 million ads last year for deceiving, misleading, or shocking users.
  • Self-clicking mobile ads: Google only needed to delete a few thousand of these ads, which automatically send users from a website to the Google Play or App Store to download a malicious app, in 2015, but in 2016 its systems detected and disabled more than 23,000.
  • Ads that try to game the system: Unscrupulous advertisers who know that Google blocks ads for weight loss supplements or payday loans will often attempt to trick its systems into letting them through by pretending to advertise something else. Last year the company took down almost 7 million of these.
  • Tabloid cloakers: This new type of scam, fresh to 2016, attempts to fool Google by pretending to be news. Cloaker ads will take advantage of a timely topic – the 2016 U.S. election, a trending news story, or a popular celebrity – and make their ads look like headlines on a news website… which then redirects users to a commercial website selling products banned from Google.

To fight cloakers, Google suspends the offending company accounts – more than 1300 in 2016. “Unfortunately, this type of bad ad is gaining in popularity because people are clicking on them,” Spencer wrote. “During a single sweep for tabloid cloaking in December 2016, we took down 22 cloakers that were responsible for ads seen more than 20 million times by people online in a single week.”

He also noted that sometimes Google suspends the website promoted in a given ad: For example, the company took action against more than 15,000 sites for unwanted software; 47,000 sites promoting weight-loss scams; 8000 sites promoting payday loans; and suspended around 6000 sites and 6000 accounts for advertising counterfeit goods, such as imitation designer watches, last year.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Eric Emin Wood
Eric Emin Wood
Former editor of ITBusiness.ca turned consultant with public relations firm Porter Novelli. When not writing for the tech industry enjoys photography, movies, travelling, the Oxford comma, and will talk your ear off about animation if you give him an opening.

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