Editor's Note: This article was originally published Thursday. An update with a response from Google is added on the second page.
NEW YORK (MainStreet) – In many ways, Google goes above and beyond the call of duty in keeping the advertising that appears on its search engine legitimate. In a posting to the company’s official blog Wednesday, Google engineer Sridhar Ramaswamy discussed some recent improvements the company had made toward keeping bad ads off its own site and off those of partners who use Google’s ad services.
So what constitutes banned advertising on Google? In addition to banning any ads for illegal or potentially harmful products (such as guns or cigarettes), Google notes that “We also don’t allow ads with misleading claims (‘lose weight guaranteed!’), fraudulent work-at-home scams (‘get rich quick working from home!’) or unclear billing practices.”
Given the prevalence of weight-loss and work-at-home scams on the Internet, it’s hard to believe that Google can completely cull such sites from its advertising network. And indeed, a few Google searches on the topics of weight and working from home reveal that ads for some questionable products do slip through.
A search for “weight loss supplements,” for instance, brings up an ad titled “I Lost 56 Pounds” which declares that “This is The Only One That Really Works!” It also links to a site for the diet supplement Nuvoryn. While there are no indications that this a fly-by-night scam operation, the company does have complaints registered against it, and like most diet products it’s filled with testimonials that likely paint an overly rosy picture of its effectiveness.
A search for “work from home jobs” brought up an ad entitled “Make $7,487 a Month?” and linked to a site that is designed to look like a real news site with an “article” about a woman named Kelly Richards making thousands by working from home. (In the version I’m seeing, Mrs. Richards is from New York City, but I’m guessing she’ll be listed as hailing from your own location when you bring it up. The site evidently uses IP address tracking to geolocate its visitors and adjust the story accordingly to give it a local spin.) Such fake news sites have been in the crosshairs of the Federal Trade Commission for the better part of a year now.
So why are such questionable sites still popping up in Google’s advertising, despite the company’s pledge to keep things clean? It’s possible that such sites simply exist in a gray area – the phrasing of the ads seems to carefully sidestep making overly assertive claims (“I lost 56 pounds” instead of “you will lose 56 pounds,” for instance). But it’s more likely that Google simply isn’t equipped to filter out every bad ad that comes through its system. The blog post notes that “billions of ads [are] submitted to Google every year” and that the company used both automated and manual systems to review potentially objectionable ads. As such, it’s not surprising that some would slip through the cracks. (For Google's comment, please see the update to this article on page 2.)
The bottom line: Google is doing its best to keep the frauds, scams and malware out of its ads – but it’s still going to miss some. In the meantime, click with caution.