Google took down 1.7 billion ads that violated its advertising policies in 2016, more than double the number of “bad ads” it removed in 2015. It also banned 200 publishers from its ad network for publishing misleading content.
In a blog post, Scott Spencer — director of product management, sustainable ads — said Google was able to ramp up the removal dodgy ads by broadening its policy of what constitutes a bad ad and “beefing up” the technology it uses to spot and disable bad ads faster.
For example, in July Google introduced a policy to ban ads for payday loans. Since then it has disabled more than five million ads for payday loans.
In 2016 a new kind of bad ad came into vogue: “tabloid cloakers” — dodgy ads masquerading as news stories.
Spencer explains, “In 2016, we saw the rise of tabloid cloakers, a new type of scammer that tries to game our system by pretending to be news. Cloakers often take advantage of timely topics — a government election, a trending news story or a popular celebrity — and their ads can look like headlines on a news web site. But when people click on that story about Ellen DeGeneres and aliens, they go to a site selling weight-loss products, not a news story.”
When Google finds a bad ad it can block either the ad, the advertiser or the web site promoted in the ad. To fight cloakers Google chooses to block the advertiser from buying more ads. In 2016, Google suspended more than 1300 accounts for tabloid cloaking.
“Unfortunately, this type of bad ad is gaining in popularity because people are clicking on them. And a handful of scammers can pump out a lot of bad ads. 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,” Spencer wrote.
And then there’s the publishers that make money from running ads from Google’s AdSense platform on their sites.
Google removed 200 publishers from its AdSense network in November and December 2016. In the wake of the uproar over the spread of “fake news” following the US election, Google reviewed 550 sites that were suspected of misrepresenting content to users, including impersonating news organisations.
“We took action against 340 of them for violating our policies, both misrepresentation and other offenses, and nearly 200 publishers were kicked out of our network permanently,” Spencer said.
Another area Google has been addressing is “trick to click” ads which often appear as system warnings to deceive users into clicking on them, not realising they are often downloading harmful software or malware. In 2016, Google detected and disabled a total of 112 million trick to click ads — six times more than in 2015.