Google is profiting from ads posted by illegal London 2012 Olympics ticket resellers, the BBC reported. These ads have since been removed, as have ads for cannabis, fake identification cards, and passports that the BBC found and reported to Google.
Google told the BBC that “the company keeps any money it might make from companies advertising illegal services before such adverts are removed.”
BBC’s report recaps the ordeal of a woman who first found an ad from LiveOlympicTickets at the “very, very top” of Google after searching for “Olympic tickets.” That would be an AdWords ad (which is strangely referred to as a Sponsored Link multiple times in the report, even though Google renamed Sponsored Links to Ads in November 2010), which often appear above Google’s organic (algorithmically generated) search results. Naturally, she assumed this ad was trustworthy, being at the top of Google and all, and bought tickets from the scam site.
“Selling tickets on the open market without permission from the Olympic authorities is a criminal offence in the UK under the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006,” BBC reported. LiveOlympicTickets is “registered overseas” and wasn’t an official 2012 Olympic ticket reseller, so it’s unlikely they’ll have to pay the £20,000 fine for reselling Olympic tickets illegally.
Police had also requested Google to take down links to illegal Olympic ticket resellers. Apparently, LiveOlympicTickets remained the top advertisement for a week after the police asked Google to remove the ad.
“We have a set of policies covering which ads can and cannot show on Google. These policies and guidelines are enforced by both automated systems and human beings. When we are informed of ads which break our policies, we investigate and remove them if appropriate,” Google said in a statement. “Our aim is to create a simple and efficient way for legitimate businesses to promote and sell their goods and services whilst protecting them and consumers from illicit activity.”
This isn’t the first case of Google profiting off illegal activities via AdWords advertising. Google surrendered $500 million in 2011 to avoid prosecution after an investigation showed Google knowingly accepted illegal ads from pharmacies in Canada and elsewhere. Google also settled with the U.S. government for $3 million in 2007 over online gambling ads.
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