Google’s bad-ad fighter squad shares its findings

The company's "Better Ads Report 2015" shows what ads and practices the search engine targets in tracking rogue ads.

Here’s a trivia question to which you might want to know the answer to: how many bad ads are floating around the online space?

The truth is we don’t really know. But Google is looking to provide a good place to start. The company and its ninja squad of 1,000 people on its kill-the-bad-ads team snared 780 million bad eggs over the course of its 2015 missions. By comparison in 2014 the task force was able to identify 524 million bad ads.

But what is a “bad ad?” Google defines it as one that violates its advertising policies. Some of those policies are kept in line by online users filing complaints about the kinds of ads they’re seeing popping up on their screens. Some four billion responses from Google users over the course of 2015 helped identify some of the culprits and problems. Where is most of that misleading advertising coming from? In its annual findings titled, “The Better Ads Report 2015,” Google identifies categories of key concern. 

Take for instance, counterfeit sites, places where fraudsters are trying to sell fake goods, like that site offering “genuine” Michael Kors products at one tenth their retail price. The Google team found 10,000 such sites linked to 18,000 accounts and suspended them.

What about ads appealing to low self-esteem and promising magical weight loss following a 30-day diet pill routine? Google received the most number of complaints for those in 2015 and suspended 30,000 sites for spreading false claims.

Google also counts poorly placed ads in its bad ads list. And advertisers who get charged for unintentional clicks because of poor ad placement or ads that interrupt a users’s reading or viewing flow, will be enthused to know that they won’t get charged for ads that consumers never wanted to see. The company is working on developing technology that prevents ads from interfering with a consumer’s reading or watching experience. That software, which is still in development, will be able to identify when a click is accidental and will not redirect a consumer to an advertiser’s site unless they want to go there.

With its 2015 report, Google also wants app developers to know that it means business with regard to policy enforcement. It stopped showing ads in 25,000 mobile apps in 2015 because of structural issues with app development. The most common challenge was the placement of buttons too close to an ad unit causing accidental clicks. The year also saw about 1.4 million rejections for applications from sites and mobile apps on account of failure to follow Google policies.

The tech company also went after pharma impostors, blocking 12.5 million ads for drugs that haven’t yet been approved or ads that claim to be as effective as prescription drugs. (It’s not clear how the Google team proved the latter). 

More than 10,000 sites pushing unwanted software onto users’ devices were disabled. The result of that effort, Google says, resulted in a 99% decrease in unwanted downloads through Google ads. Also, about 7,000 sites were blocked for phishing.

Google also dealt with “trick to click” ads, ones that push out system warnings onto consumers’ screens informing them that they need to take action. It rejected more than 17 million such ads in 2015.

In addition to playing enforcer, Google has also given consumers some control over the kinds of ads they see. Under Ads Settings in their home panel, consumers can select what kind of ads they are interested in seeing.