Keeping counterfeits out of ads

Tuesday, March 15, 2011 | 5:00 AM

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Thanks to the Internet, it’s never been easier to start a business and reach a huge audience, at an incredible scale. Unfortunately, some people misuse legitimate online services to try to market counterfeit goods. Of course, this isn’t a problem unique to the online world, but as the Web has grown, so have attempts to sell counterfeits online.

With over one million advertisers using AdWords in over 190 countries, how do we weed out the bad actors who violate our clear policies against advertising counterfeits? In the last six months of 2010 alone, we shut down approximately 50,000 AdWords accounts for attempting to advertise counterfeit goods. But there’s no silver bullet here. Instead, it’s a cat-and-mouse game, where we are constantly working to improve our practices and tune our systems to keep out the bad guys.

That’s why today we’re announcing three improvements designed to further improve our collaboration with brand owners to address the problem and prevent counterfeiters from abusing our services:

  • We’ll act on reliable AdWords counterfeit complaints within 24 hours. In 2009, we announced a new complaint form to make it fast and easy for brand owners to notify us of misuse. For brand owners who use this form responsibly, we’ll reduce our average response time to 24 hours or less.
  • We will improve our AdSense anti-counterfeit reviews. We have always prohibited our AdSense partners from placing Google ads on sites that include or link to sales of counterfeit goods. We will work more closely with brand owners to identify infringers and, when appropriate, expel them from the AdSense programme.
  • We’ve introduced a new help centre page for reporting counterfeits. That way, we aim to make it easier for users and brand owners to find forms to report abuse.
These steps are our ways of facilitating co-operation with brand owners, which is absolutely essential in tackling the sale of counterfeits online. AdWords is just a conduit between advertisers and consumers and we can’t know whether any particular item out of the millions advertised is counterfeit or not.

Of course, we do more than simply respond to brand owners’ removal requests. We use their feedback to help us tune a set of sophisticated automated tools, which analyse thousands of signals along every step of the advertising process and help prevent bad ads from ever seeing the light of day. We devote significant engineering and machine resources in order to prevent violations of ads policies, including counterfeiting.

In fact, we invested over $60 million last year alone, and, in the last 6 months of 2010, more than 95% of accounts removed for counterfeits came down based on our own detection efforts. No system is perfect, but brand owner feedback has helped us improve over time - as our system gets more data about ads it has misclassified before, it gets better at counteracting new ways that bad guys try to cloak their behaviour.

While our systems get better over time, counterfeiting remains a complex challenge, and we keep investing in anti-counterfeiting measures. After all, a Google user duped by a fake is far less likely to click on another Google ad in the future. Ads for counterfeits aren't just bad for the real brand holder - they're bad for users who can end up unknowingly buying sub-standard products, and they're bad for Google too.


Rachel said...

Dear Kent,

Your work in keeping counterfeits out of ads should be commended.

I wonder what is Google view on the sale of degrees by diploma mills.

Do you see them as a type of counterfeits or classify them differently?

Technically speaking, diploma mills are not selling fake degrees as if they were issued by a genuine university. They claim to be recognised and accredited and therefore genuine themselves.

However, anyone that follows this industry knows how to distinguish between genuine education providers and diploma mills.

So I’d be very interested to learn more about your views and policies (if they exist) to fight diploma mills. At the moment it seems that they advertise freely on your network.

As a company we have invested thousands of man hours over the past 3 years researching diploma mills and their activities. We maintain the only global database of such “institutions” and we make it available to law enforcement agencies, background screening providers, investigators and others.

Currently we have almost 6,000 institutions on our global database of mills. The database does not just cover names but URLs, addresses, IP addresses, telephone numbers, names of individuals and companies involved in the scams and much more.

We would love to see how we could work with Google to fight these diploma mills and ban them from your advertising network.

Thank you,

Eyal Ben Cohen
Managing Director
Accredibase Limited

wasaweb said...

Ads for counterfeits aren't just bad for the real brand holder - they're bad for users who can end up unknowingly buying sub-standard products, and they're bad for Google too.

And they are bad for AdSense publishers, whose sites are tainted by association. It's interesting that you have failed to mention that aspect.

Gabriele said...

Dear Kent,

I would make two short considerations here.

The first is very practical. I think your initiative could be a powerful tool to address a wide-spread fear amongst internet users, not only "light" internet users, but even those using the internet with quite some confidence already. The fear is really whether one can always "trust" his/her counter-party in a transaction when there is no first-hand precedent business experience/trust with that subject, as well as little "social-feedback" that can be of help. In a way, what Google does is something like eBay, just on much larger scale. This would deserve the appropriate level publicity, I think. Otherwise the risk is that users would not perceive the increased safety of the internet environment.

The second consideration, is more legal (as I am also a lawyer..). In brief, I would be interested to know whether you have a feedback from the European antitrust watchdog or other as regards the effectiveness of this measure as a response to what the EC Courts have recently established in this field. I trust you know exactly what the point is and would not bother you repeating the Courts' holding.

Look forward a comment from you.

Best regards,


Gabriele Accardo

Avvocato/Lawyer - EU Competition Law

Research Fellow
Transatlantic Technology Law Forum
Stanford Law School