One of my favorite Mitch Hedberg jokes goes something like, “I love the FedEx driver, because he’s a drug dealer and he don’t even know it.”
Well, it turns out you might be able to say the same thing about Google AdWords. A new BBC report reveals the sketchier side of Google’s flagship, profit-making endeavor.
Google removed several advertisements for the illegal services when BBC contacted the company. It also took down the Olympic ads at British law enforcement’s request. Unsurprisingly, Google said it would keep any money it made from the ads.
BBC found out about Google’s malfeasance from a young woman searching Google for 2012 London Olympic tickets. The young British consumer clicked on the top result — a sponsored search result that turned out to be an illegal ticket reseller called LiveOlympicTickets. When the offshore company wanted her faxed signature before it would give her the tickets, she smelled something fishy.
(As a side note, this is exactly why I never click sponsored links when I use Google. It’s annoying, because now on most searches the top results are sponsored, and Google makes it less obvious than it used to. But yeah… sponsored results are never quite what they seem.)
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Google’s flub is how it reveals flaws in the partially-automated system:
Google’s advertising system is partly automated and this helps make the initial selection of the advertisements which appear at the top of its search results.
Google’s AdWords does filter key words that can help sift out adverts which might be offering unlawful services.
If a filter flags an advert, then Google will run a manual assessment – a human takes a look – and if it breaks Google’s policy, the advert will be taken down.
In a statement, Google said: “We have a set of policies covering which ads can and cannot show on Google. These policies and guidelines are enforced by both automated systems and human beings.
“When we are informed of ads which break our policies, we investigate and remove them if appropriate.”
The timing of the piece is significant, as it coincides with all the hubbub surrounding SOPA, which is designed to cut off reputable companies’ profit from these kinds of illicit, offshore operations. But I have to wonder how much Google makes from weed advertisements — what kind of stoner buys pot online?
Google has got to have some other sketch-tastic advertisements out there. If you come across any dodgy, or better yet illegal, Google advertisements, please take a screenshot and send them our way, subject line “Sketchy Google Ads.”