Google Says It Blocked 1.7 Billion Ads for Policy Violations in 2016

Misleading Ads along with ads for illegal or dangerous products and payday loans were among those that Google blocked most heavily in 2016, the company reported.

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Google makes billions of dollars from web advertising. But the company has long claimed it does not hesitate to take down ads that it considers misleading, harmful or inappropriate.

New figures and data released by the company this week shed some fresh light on that claim.

In 2016, Google blocked 1.7 billion ads for violating the company’s policies. That represented double the number of ads Google blocked the previous year.

About 68 million of the ads that Google blocked last year were related to bogus or illegal health care products—up sharply from the 12.5 million ads that were dropped in 2015. Another 80 million were taken down for misleading users with false information in order to drive more clicks. Ads in this category included those trying to entice uses with fictitious or unproven cures for ailments and weight loss commercials.

Google added two new categories to its list of bad ads last year—ads for payday loans and so-called "tabloid cloakers," which are defined as ads disguised as news stories.

In July 2016, Google announced that it would no longer accept ads for payday loans because of what the company claimed were the predatory practices of such lenders. Between July and December the company says it disabled more than 5 million payday loan ads.

Another 7 million were blocked because they tried to game Google’s system because they were ads crafted to look like news stories. Google suspended about 1,300 accounts that were associated with such tabloid cloaking practices in 2016.

“Unfortunately, this type of bad ad is gaining in popularity because people are clicking on them,” said Scott Spencer, director of product management for sustainable ads at Google. According to Spencer, a handful of these scammers can generate a lot of such ads in a very short time.

“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.”

By far the biggest category of ads that Google blocked last year were so-called “trick to click” ads, which the company describes as ads that download malware or potentially harmful software such as spyware when a user clicks on them. Google disabled 112 million such ads, or about 6 times the number in 2015.

Google’s motives for cracking down on bad ads are more than just purely altruistic. Google’s online properties serve up more ads that any other platform in the world and the company has a lot at stake in ensuring that people at web users visiting it's sites are not scammed or turned off by the sheer volume of online ads these days.

In recent times, online users have increasingly started using ad blocker and non-tracking mechanisms to prevent ads from being delivered on their systems.

In 2016, eMarketer estimated that nearly 70 million American Internet users were using ad blockers on their desktops and laptops. The company estimates that number will jump to nearly 87 million this year.

In releasing the numbers, eMarketer had described the trend as deeply detrimental to the entire online advertising ecosystem and one that could have big consequences for advertisers, marketers and ad agencies.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.