Democratic lawmaker accuses Google of failing to police deceptive ads

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U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) speaks to reporters during a break from a Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations joint briefing on the U.S. policy on Afghanistan, on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 2, 2022.
Al Drago | Reuters

Google has failed to take down scam ads that violate its policies, according to Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., chair of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Consumer Protection.

In a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai, first reported by The Washington Post on Tuesday, Blumenthal wrote that Google’s policies about deceptive ads “often appear to be dead letter law” because of its lack of enforcement.

“I am deeply concerned that Google appears unwilling to protect consumers and small businesses on Google Ads, and has demonstrated inadequate due diligence against fraud and abuse,” he wrote.

Blumenthal’s letter cites a 2021 article from The Markup that found Google ran ads made to look like government websites in violation of its own policies. At the time, a Google spokesperson told the publication it removed the violating ads.

But Blumenthal said his office recently found deceptive ads using the same keywords mentioned in the article. His staff also found ads for misleading health treatments, he added.

Google has in the past added verification processes meant to limit impersonation of government services, such as getting a passport.

But Blumenthal charged that the continued existence of deceptive ads burdens small businesses by making it harder and more expensive for their sites to surface in search results, while padding Google’s pockets.

Blumenthal said Google’s focus on “paid ads over real answers” ultimately results in burying smaller competitors.

“We have strict policies in place to protect people and advertisers alike from abuse, including rules that govern the use of trademarks in ad campaigns and safeguard businesses from infringement,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement.

“Our Google Search ads are also clearly labeled and we rely on extensive user testing to ensure ad labels meet our high standards for being prominent and distinguishable from unpaid results. We are reviewing Senator Blumenthal’s letter and will work directly with his office to provide a full response.”

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