(Cross-posted from the Google European Public Policy Blog.)
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 center page for reporting counterfeits. That way, we aim to make it easier for users and brand owners to find forms to report abuse.
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 analyze 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 behavior.
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.