What is Google?
If you answered a powerful internet search engine then you’re only partly right.
Yes, Google does provide the world’s most well known search engine, alongside a myriad of other tools such as webmail, online document collaboration, cloud file-syncing and storage, the list goes on…
But this isn’t where Google makes most of its money.
It makes most of its money from advertising. The adverts which appear alongside your search results, alongside your email, embedded on third-party websites, and irritatingly before the videos you want to watch on YouTube.
So Google is, primarily, an internet advertising company. And a huge one at that.
And advertisers are falling over themselves to take advantage of Google’s global reach, hoping to exploit the company’s ability to serve up relevant, context-sensitive adverts in front of an enormous potential audience.
To those who want to get their adverts in front of your eyeballs that sounds marvellous. But if you are aware of the security issues that can surround third-party adverts you’ll recognise the potential issues.
Google says it has a global team of more than 1000 people, dedicated to keeping bad ads out.
780 million ads. That is one heck of a lot of ads to check for violations. In fact, according to Google, if you spent just one second checking each of those ads it would take you almost 25 years to look at them all. Thankfully, Google doesn’t just use human beings to review the ads – they have also created computer algorithms to do the heavy lifting for them.
So, what are the different types of ads that are being blocked by Google?
First up are ads for pharmaceuticals. Google says that it has blocked more than 12.5 million ads in the last year that breached its healthcare policies – making misleading claims about health benefits, or pharmaceuticals which were not approved for use.
Then there are the ads which try to sell you the counterfeit goods – more than 10,000 websites and 18,000 accounts belonging to advertisers attempting to sell go fake goods such as imitation designer watches found themselves suspended.
Meanwhile, more than 30,000 ads promoting weight loss scams and supplements that promise extraordinary weight loss (no dieting or exercise required) were suspended.
Furthermore, almost 7,000 websites that had been created to phish users were blocked during the year.
And then there is the problem of malware and unwanted software that can make your computer as slow as molasses or fiddle with your home page settings. Google says that it disabled ads pointing to more than 10,000 sites offering such unwanted software, and reduced unwanted downloads via Google ads by more than 99 percent.
Google also says it rejected more than 17 million so-called ‘Trick-to-click’ advertisements.
‘Trick-to-click’ ads deliberately disguise them so they don’t look like adverts. Instead, they might try to mimic system or website warnings, or resemble Windows or Mac dialog boxes and error messages.
Google’s Sridhar Ramaswamy says that Google won’t be resting on its laurels in its fight against bad ads, and plans in 2016 to put further restrictions in place to control what can be advertised as effective for weight loss, and add new protection against malware.
It is good to see Google being responsible in this area, and working hard to try to keep its ad stream as unpolluted as possible. However, one has to wonder if this ship has sailed.
More and more computer users, stung by their experiences of website ads tracking their online activity or infecting their computers with malware, are deciding to install ad blockers – stripping advertising content out of webpages.
People aren’t installing ad blockers because they necessarily find advertising an offensive way for a website to generate revenue, but because having your PC infected by malware for simply browsing a webpage is too high a cost to pay.
All ad networks, not just Google, need to improve their policing of bad ads. Because if they don’t, they may simply find there is no-one left looking at them.