Around this time of year, Google shares how many “bad ads” it killed the year before. And every year, the number grows. But not this time.
“Bad ads” consist of any advertising that violates Google’s advertising policies, including ad fraud, phishing scams, and malware. That includes everything from a one-off accident to a coordinated action by scammers trying to make money.
Google shared today that the company’s ads team killed 2.3 billion “bad ads” in 2018, a decrease of 28 percent from the previous year, when it removed 3.2 billion bad ads. Put another way, Google took down more than 100 bad ads per second in 2017, and less than 75 bad ads per second in 2018.
Going after bad actors with machine learning
Google wouldn’t go on the record when we asked why exactly the company removed fewer ads last year, but there are a few reasons that together paint a picture. The first is increasingly blocking bad ad experiences before the scams impact people. Google says it made a “concerted effort to go after the bad actors behind numerous bad ads, not just the ads themselves” in 2018.
Next, Google says it used “improved machine learning technology” to identify and terminate almost 1 million bad advertiser accounts, including nearly 734,000 publishers and app developers. That figure is approximately double the amount in 2017. Acting at the account level naturally has a bigger impact of addressing the root cause of bad ads — one bad account can run thousands of bad ads.
Also in 2018, Google launched 330 detection classifiers to better detect “badness” at the page level — nearly three times the number of classifiers launched in 2017. Google thus removed ads completely from nearly 1.5 million apps and off nearly 28 million pages that violated its publisher policies. These violations are caught using a combination of manual reviews and machine learning.
Lastly, Google worked with cybersecurity firm White Ops, the FBI, and others in the industry to take down an international ad fraud operation. The operation, codenamed 3ve, exploited data centers, computers infected with malware, spoofed fraudulent domains, and fake websites to produce more than 10,000 counterfeit domains and generate over 3 billion daily bid requests at its peak. Late last year, the FBI announced charges against eight individuals for crimes including aggravated identity theft and money laundering.
Policies and a Policy manager
During 2018, Google introduced 31 new ads policies to address abuses in areas including third-party tech support, ticket resellers, cryptocurrency, and local services. And as a result, the company removed 207,000 ads for ticket resellers, over 531,000 ads for bail bonds, and approximately 58.8 million phishing ads.
Google also launched a new policy for election ads in the U.S. ahead of the 2018 midterm elections, verifying nearly 143,000 election ads in the U.S. The company additionally released a political ads transparency report that gives more information about who bought election ads. 2019 will bring similar tools ahead of elections in the EU and India, Google promised.
As for misinformation and low-quality sites, Google removed ads from approximately 1.2 million pages, more than 22,000 apps, and nearly 15,000 sites for violations of policies directed at misrepresentative, hateful or other low-quality content. The “dangerous or derogatory” content policy, for example, includes a prohibition on hate speech and hateful content.
Speaking of policies, Google plans to launch a Policy manager in Google Ads, like its AdSense Policy Center, next month. The Policy manager will help advertisers ensure their creatives are policy compliant and give tips on common policy mistakes.
Google needs to continue fighting “bad ads” to ensure its users don’t associate its network with fraud, scams, and malware. Given that the majority of Google’s revenue comes from ads, that scenario is simply not an option.