Google’s policies were largely expanded to protect users from misleading and predatory offers, explained Scott Spencer, Google’s global director of product management for sustainable ads, in a video conference.
Google declined to share the percentage bad ads represented against the total volume of ads served across its platform last year.
For example, in July, the platform introduced a policy to ban ads for payday loans which are known to result in unaffordable payments and high default rates for users. "In the six months since launching this policy, we disabled more than five million payday loan ads," Spencer said.
Keeping online advertising clean matters to Google as it poses a threat to the sustainability of the web. "In general, my role is to improve the overall ecosystem for advertising, our hope and belief is that it will reduce ad-blocking," he explained.
It is also Spencer’s hope that by taking down bad ads and sites will reduce the amount of malware out there which in turn will undermine botnets and hopefully lead to a reduction in ad fraud.
Other ads and websites Google took down last year:
Ads for illegal products
The most common ads Google takes down are those promoting illegal activities or products, such as illegal pharmaceuticals and gambling (in countries where it is prohibited). While Google has had a long-standing policy against bad ads for pharmaceuticals, last year there was a significant increase online. Last year, Google disabled more than 68 million of these bad ads, up from 12.5 million in 2015.
Similarly, gambling-related promotions without proper authorisation from regulators were also on the rise. Google took down more than 17 million bad ads for gambling violations.
Ads that try and drive clicks and views by intentionally misleading people with false information such as miracle cures are also a no-no for Google. Last year, nearly 80 million ads that deceived, misled or shocked users were taken down.
Google also took down "trick to click" ads, which often appear as system warnings to deceive users into clicking them, tricking them into downloading harmful software or malware. In 2016, the platform disabled 112 million ads for ‘trick to click’, six times more than in 2015.
Bad ads on mobile
"In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of bad ads developed exclusively for the mobile web," observed Spencer. Some of the worst offenders are ‘self-clicking ads’. In 2016, Google detected and disabled more than 23,000 self-clicking ads.
Ads trying to game the system
"An ongoing challenge is that as we get better, so do the bad actors," shared Spencer. "They use techniques like traffic caps so they don’t set off our alarm bells, and they also use country borders against us."
Google saw an increase in scamming activity in 2016, but managed to take down nearly seven million bad ads for intentionally attempting to trick its systems.
One of the newer techniques is that of ‘tabloid cloaking’. A scammer that games the system by pretending to be news. "Cloakers often take advantage of current trends and hot topics, such as government election or a trending news story," said Spencer. "Unfortunately, this type of bad ad is gaining in popularity because people are clicking on them."
To fight cloakers, Google takes down the scammers themselves, and prevent them from advertising on its platform again. Last year, it suspended more than 1,300 accounts for tabloid cloaking as a handful of scammers can pump out a lot of bad ads. For example, during a single sweep for tabloid cloaking in December 2016, Google took down 22 cloakers that were responsible for ads seen more than 20 million times by people online in a single week.
Sometimes, Google has seen a need to block the website promoted on the ad, as well as the advertiser and the ad. Last year, it took down 8,000 sites promoting payday loans, 47,000 sites promoting content and products related to weight-loss scams, 15,000 sites for unwanted software, 6,000 sites for attempting to advertising counterfeit goods and 900,000 ads that contained malware.
While Google AdSense has had a long-standing policy prohibiting AdSense publishers from running ads on sites that help people deceive others, such as a site peddling fake diplomas, it saw the need to expand its prohibited content policy. Following this, from November to December 2016 it reviewed 550 sites that were suspected of misrepresenting content to users, including impersonating news organisations. Google took action against 340 and nearly 200 were kicked off its network permanently.