Google removed more than 99 million malicious Covid-19 ads in 2020, figures show

Martyn Landi, PA Technology Correspondent
·2-min read

Google blocked or removed more than three billion adverts for violating its policies in 2020, including more than 99 million linked to the coronavirus pandemic, the company has revealed.

The internet company’s annual Ads Safety Report showed it suspended 1.7 million advertiser accounts for breaking Google rules.

It said a major revamp of its advertising policies, including the addition or updating of more than 40 rules for both advertisers and publishers had meant a drastic increase in the number of ads removed over the last 12 months.

Among the 3.1 billion adverts removed were over 99 million related to Covid-19, many for misleading claims such as miracle cures or fake vaccine doses, but also ads for N95 masks during supply shortages.

“As the number of Covid-19 cases rose around the world last January, we enforced our sensitive events policy to prevent behaviour like price-gouging on in-demand products like hand sanitiser, masks and paper goods, or ads promoting false cures,” Google’s vice president for Ads privacy and safety, Scott Spencer said.

“As we learned more about the virus and health organisations issued new guidance, we evolved our enforcement strategy to start allowing medical providers, health organisations, local governments and trusted businesses to surface critical updates and authoritative content, while still preventing opportunistic abuse.

“Additionally, as claims and conspiracies about the coronavirus’s origin and spread were circulated online, we launched a new policy to prohibit both ads and monetised content about Covid-19 or other global health emergencies that contradict scientific consensus.”

Google said that because of its new policies and increased investment in automated detection technology it had been able to increase its enforcement, revealing ads were removed from 1.3 billion pages in 2020, up from just 21 million in comparison during 2019.

Mr Spencer said Google planned to continue such development going forward.

“We know that when we make decisions through the lens of user safety, it will benefit the broader ecosystem,” he said.

“Preserving trust for advertisers and publishers helps their businesses succeed in the long term. In the upcoming year, we will continue to invest in policies, our team of experts and enforcement technology to stay ahead of potential threats.

“We also remain steadfast on our path to scale our verification programs around the world in order to increase transparency and make more information about the ad experience universally available.”