Amid the ongo­ing dis­cus­sion over how online plat­forms can be and have been, mis­used by bad actors to manip­u­late and influ­ence opin­ion, Google has released a new update on its efforts to address such con­cerns, using advanced tech­nol­o­gy to detect and enforce its revised rules around ad use.

As per Google:

Google has a cru­cial stake in a healthy and sus­tain­able dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing ecosys­tem — some­thing we’ve worked to enable for near­ly 20 years. Every day, we invest sig­nif­i­cant team hours and tech­no­log­i­cal resources in pro­tect­ing the users, adver­tis­ers, and pub­lish­ers that make the inter­net so use­ful.”

And last year, those efforts ramped up sig­nif­i­cant­ly — accord­ing to Google’s lat­est report, the plat­form removed more than 2.3 bil­lion ads in 2018 due to vio­la­tions of both new and exist­ing poli­cies, which equates to some six mil­lion Google ads being struck down every sin­gle day.

In 2018, those removals includ­ed:

  • Near­ly 207,000 ads for tick­et resellers
  • Over 531,000 ads for bail bonds
  • Around 58.8 mil­lion phish­ing ads.

Google has strength­ened its poli­cies around each of these spe­cif­ic ele­ments, after find­ing that they were being used in manip­u­la­tive and dis­hon­est ways.

For exam­ple, we cre­at­ed a new pol­i­cy ban­ning ads from for-prof­it bail bond providers because we saw evi­dence that this sec­tor was tak­ing advan­tage of vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties. Sim­i­lar­ly, when we saw a rise in ads pro­mot­ing decep­tive expe­ri­ences to users seek­ing addic­tion treat­ment ser­vices, we con­sult­ed with experts and restrict­ed adver­tis­ing to cer­ti­fied orga­ni­za­tions. In all, we intro­duced 31 new ads poli­cies in 2018 to address abus­es in areas includ­ing third-par­ty tech sup­port, tick­et resellers, cryp­tocur­ren­cy and local ser­vices such as garage door repair­men, bail bonds and addic­tion treat­ment facil­i­ties.”

In addi­tion to this, Google has also improved its detec­tion tools, enabling it to remove not just sin­gle ads, but also the accounts behind them. In 2018, Google says it ter­mi­nat­ed close to a mil­lion bad adver­tis­er accounts, almost dou­ble the amount it banned in 2017. Google also launched addi­tion­al detec­tion clas­si­fiers in order to “bet­ter detect “bad­ness” at the page lev­el”, which facil­i­tat­ed the removal of ads from near­ly 28 mil­lion indi­vid­ual pages which vio­lat­ed its pub­lish­er poli­cies.

And Google’s also ramp­ing up its efforts to remove mon­e­ti­za­tion from accounts which prof­it from mis­in­for­ma­tion:

In 2018, we removed ads from approx­i­mate­ly 1.2 mil­lion pages, more than 22,000 apps, and near­ly 15,000 sites across our ad net­work for vio­la­tions of poli­cies direct­ed at mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tive, hate­ful or oth­er low-qual­i­ty con­tent. More specif­i­cal­ly, we removed ads from almost 74,000 pages for vio­lat­ing our “dan­ger­ous or deroga­to­ry” con­tent pol­i­cy and took down approx­i­mate­ly 190,000 ads for vio­lat­ing this pol­i­cy. This pol­i­cy includes a pro­hi­bi­tion on hate speech and pro­tects our users, adver­tis­ers and pub­lish­ers from hate­ful con­tent across plat­forms.”  

Remov­ing the finan­cial incen­tive behind pub­lish­ing this type of con­tent is key to lim­it­ing its spread. Of course, some of these activ­i­ties are fund­ed by gov­ern­ment-orig­i­nat­ed groups, which would lessen the rel­e­vance of finan­cial impact, but stop­ping them from reach­ing more peo­ple through tar­get­ed ads is still a pow­er­ful way to restrict expo­sure.

As not­ed, giv­en the ongo­ing con­cerns around how dig­i­tal plat­forms can be used to spread such con­tent, its good to see the major play­ers in Google and Face­book tak­ing increased action to address each ele­ment. Giv­en their pres­ence, more needs to be done by these com­pa­nies to pro­tect vul­ner­a­ble users and lim­it mis­in­for­ma­tion — both Google and Face­book are gen­er­at­ing bil­lions in rev­enue through ads, so addi­tion­al invest­ment into improv­ing their process­es is clear­ly jus­ti­fied.

The num­bers here show that Google is tak­ing action — there’s still a long way to go, but it is pos­i­tive to look at the impact Google’s efforts have had thus far.