An investigation by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) revealed that Google is hosting ads for unofficial services such as applying for visas in inflated amounts.
The search engine has returned ads for services charging £ 50 to change an address on a driver’s license – something that can be done for free on the government website.
Applying for an ESTA travel permit on the United States government website should not cost more than £ 10 ($ 14).
The BBC found that Google frequently allowed ads for websites charging more than 58 GBP ($ 80) for an ESTA.
Informal service ads selling government documents conflict with Google’s own rules.
Experts caution the public to be careful about top search results that appear on Google next to the word “ad.” They may charge exorbitantly for services that should be fairly cheap – or even free, as the BBC investigation found.
Responsible third parties pay Google to promote their ads so that they appear at the top of the search results.
Ad serving services
– ESTA America
United States visa
Canada ETA (Travel Document for Canada)
Apple to obtain a driver’s license
Renewal of a driver’s license
– Change driving license address
They process the client’s request and return the documents as you paid for them, which means they are not doing anything illegal.
But the BBC investigation shows that these third parties are making money on the client’s expense.
Some companies charge more than five times the amount the official websites charge.
Martin Lewis, founder of Money Saving Expert, explained: “ They are not scams, they are scams.
“They don’t steal your money – they’re charging you for something that’s totally useless.”
When searching for a service on Google, the search results at the top tend to contain the word “ad.”
These are the research findings the public should be wary of, says Lewis.
“When you use the major search engines including Google, you should always look for the ‘ad’ tag,” he said.
If there is a small box with “advertisement” written on the left, the only reason they are in place is because they have paid money to be there.
A screenshot of MailOnline when searching for “Apply for ESTA”. Experts warn the public about search results in bold with the word “advertisement” next to it.
“Scroll down under all ads and find the natural winner in the search.”
The investigation found ads of third-party sellers that were too expensive every time they searched over a 12-month period.
This included applying for a driver’s license, renewing a driver’s license or changing an address on a UK driver’s license.
Other announcements included the ESTA purchase services, the United States visa, Canadian ETA (travel document for Canada), Canada visa, and Australia visa.
According to the BBC, Google has banned ads for third-party services that charge more than the official government website – back in 2018.
However, in May 2020 it appeared to tighten its stance even more – changing its policy to block ads for “documents and / or services that can be obtained directly from the government or an authorized provider.”
The new investigation shows that Google is therefore inconsistent with its own policies on the matter.
Google said in a statement: “We have strict policies governing the types of ads and advertisers that we allow on our systems.
“We only allow governments or authorized service providers to advertise official documents or services.”
Google told the BBC it is using machine learning and human reviewers to discover issues with advertisers.
The company allegedly removed 3.1 billion ads that violated its policies in 2020 It started verifying advertisers on its platforms in January 2021.
Earlier this month, This Is Money created an online dummy investment company called best2invest for just £ 95.88, which Google approved.
Best2invest was approved by Google even though it was initially reported as suspicious, and in less than a week, it was viewed 3,539 times and achieved 74 clicks.
Google says it will stop selling ads based on people’s browsing history and tracking users online – although the new policy does not include mobile apps.
In March 2021, Google announced plans to stop selling ads based on users’ browsing history in a comprehensive overhaul aimed at tightening privacy.
Alphabet Inc, the parent company of the tech giant, has said it will stop using and investing in technologies that track users on its Chrome browser as they move from one site to another by next year.
Google is working on proposals to remove so-called third-party cookies from Chrome – snippets of code that advertisers use on the website to record browsing history in order to show users personalized ads – in an effort to meet the growing data privacy standards.
The company has confirmed that it will not replace third-party cookies with similar cross-site tracking technology.
For years, online advertising technology companies, including Google, have been able to tell retailers to assign an ad to someone after tracking that person’s searches the previous week.
Without third-party cookies or technologies like them, such tracking across multiple websites is not possible.
Google suggests instead gathering web users with similar interests while keeping their unique identities private.
With the upcoming changes, Google will still be able to track users on its own through data collected from its services such as Search, Maps and YouTube.
The company said the changes only apply to advertising tools and unique identifiers for websites, and not to mobile apps.