Google’s annual Ad Safety Report identifies 3.1 billion bad ads

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Google’s annual Ads Safety Report has indicated an increase in malicious advertising in 2020. It also notes that stopping ‘bad actors’ from taking advantage of people online in a year with both a global pandemic and multiple elections around the world was challenging.

  • Google’s Ads Safety Report is designed to prevent malicious ads appearing on Google’s advertising platforms. The annual analysis helps identify and filter out seemingly innocent accounts that are potentially harmful.
  • Findings are used to prevent future occurrences through the creation of policies that are enforced by automated review signals. The initial report, in 2011, led to the blocking of over 130 million ads. In 2020, 3.1 billion ads were blocked or removed.
  • Investments in automated detection technology and the introduction of new policies vastly increased enforcement at the publisher level. Google removed ads from 1.3 billion publisher pages in 2020, up from just 21 million in 2019. Ads were stopped from serving on over 1.6 million publisher sites.
A difficult year
  • The 2020 Report notes an increase in opportunistic advertising and fraudulent behavior from advertisers using cloaking to attempt to hide from detection, promote non-existent businesses and run ads for phone-based scams.
  • More than 867 million ads were blocked for attempting to evade detection systems; 101 million ads were blocked for breaking misrepresentation policies; over 1.7 million breached privacy policies.
  • “The biggest threat and trend that we tracked this year was Covid-19. As part of our work, we stayed abreast of trends around test kits, vaccines, and any misinformation around about Covid-19,” noted Evan Bell, Trust & Safety Strategist at Google.
  • This is the first year the Ad Safety report included information on ad restrictions, with 6.4bn ads ‘restricted’. This reflects an increase in country-specific ad regulations: Restricting ads helps advertisers follow requirements regionally while limiting impact on broader campaigns.
Improving detection

Google took new steps toward the prevention of bad ads in 2020, adding updating more than 40 policies for advertisers and publishers. It also introduced its advertiser and business operation verification programs.

The tech giant says the work it undertakes to improve ad safety is a priority in 2021 to help to preserve trust for advertisers and publishers. Ongoing actions to prevent future malicious behaviours and continuously improve models include:

  • Human reviewers identifying and labeling policy-violating ads
  • Machine learning models using policy-violating ads to identify signals of malicious behavior
  • Machine learning models based on network signals identified to flag similar ads

“We will continue to invest in policies, our team of experts and enforcement technology to stay ahead of potential threats,” said Scott Spencer, VP of ads privacy and safety at Google. He also pledged to scale verification programs around the world, increase transparency and make more information about the ad experience universally available.

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