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Spam ads, phony ads...a new case for platforms to answer
Digital media planning & buyingOnline ad fraudSearch marketing
A couple more bricks have been thrown into the murky pond of online advertising, as allegations come to light regarding how gatekeeper search engines might be filtering low-value spam ads to smaller rivals and how phony ads are harvesting user data which encourage further spam.
Politico reported on claims that Bing and Google, two leading search engines owned by tech giants Microsoft and Alphabet respectively, appear to be keeping high-value online advertising for their own platforms while passing spam ads to alternative search engines – think DuckDuckGo, Ecosia, Qwant, Startpage – that rely on the two firms’ indexing.
A German lawyer, who notes similarities with earlier anti-competitive practices on Google Shopping which resulted in a €2.4 billion fine from the European Union, explains that if the two big players were engaging in the alleged practices, that would mean smaller search engines “monetise worse” and have a poorer user experience as their service becomes cluttered with annoying and irrelevant ads.
Google responds that advertisers can decide where they want their ads shown and that all ads run through sites signed up to its Search Network are eligible to appear both on Google's search results and the results of syndication partners.
Separately, HuffPost reports how slickly produced ads promoting non-existent US government payouts have been viewed 100 million times over the past four months – “part of a sprawling scheme to drive web traffic and harvest people’s personal details” to be sold on in information lists in a practice the title says violates Google’s own policies and federal law. Google has now pulled the ads.
Observers suggest the chances of being caught are minimal and the returns from this activity far outweigh any penalties that might be imposed. One adds that, because of the pandemic, desperate people are more likely than ever to click on ads offering financial support.
What happened to trust?
Trust is a concept much discussed in the advertising world. Traditional media retain much higher levels of trust than digital channels, where search is more trusted than websites or social media. Platforms need to put their own houses in order and take action to minimise bad actors if they’re not to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.