Like all other Internet companies, we’re fighting a war against a huge number of bad actors—from websites selling counterfeit goods and fraudulent tickets to underground international operations trying to spread malware and spyware. We must remain vigilant because scammers will always try to find new ways to abuse our systems. Given the number of searches on Google and the number of legitimate businesses who rely on this system to reach users, our work to remove bad ads must be precise and at scale.
We recently made some improvements to help ensure the ads you see comply with our strict policies, so we wanted to give you an overview of both our principles and these new technologies.
Ads that harm users are not allowed on Google
We’ve always approached our ads system with trust and safety in mind. Our policies cover a wide range of issues across the globe in every country in which we do business. For example, our ads policies don’t allow ads for illegal products such as counterfeit goods or harmful products such as handguns or cigarettes. We also don’t allow ads with misleading claims (“lose weight guaranteed!”), fraudulent work-at-home scams (“get rich quick working from home!”) or unclear billing practices.
How it all works
With billions of ads submitted to Google every year, we use a combination of sophisticated technology and manual review to detect and remove these sorts of ads. We spend millions of dollars building technical architecture and advanced machine learning models to fight this battle. These systems are designed to detect and remove ads for malicious download sites that contain malware or a virus before these ads could appear on Google. Our automated systems also scan and review landing pages—the websites that people are taken to once they click—as well as advertiser accounts. When potentially objectionable ads are flagged by our automated systems, our policy specialists review the ads, sites and accounts in detail and take action.
Improvements to detection systems
Here are some important improvements that we’ve recently made to our systems:
- Improved “query watch” for counterfeit ads: While anyone can report counterfeit ads, we’ve widened our proactive monitoring of sensitive keywords and queries related to counterfeit goods which allows us to catch more counterfeit ads before they ever appear on Google
- New “risk model” to detect violations: Our computer scanning depends on detailed risk models to determine whether a particular ad may violate our policies, and we recently upgraded our engineering system with a new “risk model” that is even more precise in detecting advertisers who violate our policies
- Faster manual review process: Some ads need to be reviewed manually. To increase our response time in preventing ads from policy-violating advertisers, we sped up our internal processes and systems for manual reviews, enabling our specialists to be more precise and fast
- Twenty-four hour response time: We aim to respond within 24 hours upon receiving a reliable complaint about an ad to ensure that we’re reviewing ads in a timely fashion
We also routinely review and update the areas which our policies cover. For example, we recently updated our policy for ads related to short-term loans in order to protect people from misleading claims. For short-term loans, we require advertisers to disclose fine-print details such as overall fees and annual percentage rate, as well as implications for late and non-payment.
Bad ads are declining
The numbers show we’re having success. In 2011, advertisers submitted billions of ads to Google, and of those, we disabled more than 130 million ads. And our systems continue to improve—in fact, in 2011 we reduced the percentage of bad ads by more than 50% compared with 2010. That means that our methods are working. We’re also catching the vast majority of these scam ads before they ever appear on Google or on any of our partner networks. For example, in 2011, we shut down approximately 150,000 accounts for attempting to advertise counterfeit goods, and more than 95% of these accounts were discovered through our own detection efforts and risk models.
Here’s David Baker, Engineering Director, who can explain more about how we detect and remove scam ads:
What you can do to help
If you’re an advertiser, we encourage you to review our policies that aim to protect users, so you can help keep the web safe. For everyone else, our Good to Know site has lots of advice, including tips for avoiding scams anywhere on the Internet. You can also report ads you believe to be fraudulent or in violation of our policies and, if needed, file a complaint with the appropriate agency as listed in our Web Search Help Center.
Online advertising is the commercial lifeblood of the web, so it’s vital that people can trust the ads on Google and the Internet overall. We’ll keep posting more information here about our efforts, and developments, in this area.
Posted by Sridhar Ramaswamy, SVP, Engineering