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One of Google's biggest goals seems to have little to do with dollars and cents. It's a simple one: 'do no evil' and it has been widely promoted for the simple fact that few billion-dollar corporations set such a goal.

Obviously, aiming to do no evil and actually doing no evil are two different things and Google has been criticized over a number of issues.

But as part of a discussion about Danny Sullivan's comment on Google's unequal treatment of search engine spam (a comment that is very much worth reading), an seobook post highlights just how subjective Google's 'do no evil' imperative seems to be.

There are a number of shady online services promoting US government grants, stimulus checks and other federal programs that are essentially giving free money away to American citizens. The majority of these services are deceptive or downright fraudulent. Typically, they require a small payment by credit card which leads to a much bigger payment if customers forget (or can't) cancel within a certain period of time.

The operators of these services have been flooding the internet with their ads and AdWords is one of their favorite marketing tools.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States has weighed in on the issue: these ads have to go. The FTC has asked "online media companies to monitor their sites for scam ads and get rid of them" and for those that don't, "they will be hearing from us".

In response to this, Google told Clickz that it was going to do its part:

Our AdWords Content Policy does not permit ads for sites that make false claims, and we investigate and remove any ads that violate our policies. We have discussed these issues with the Federal Trade Commission and reaffirmed our commitment to protecting users from scam ads.

But as seobook's Aaron Wall observes, these ads are still appearing on AdWords. In fact, there's still so many of them that it doesn't look like Google is making any effort at all to curb them. As Wall points out, Google is probably making over $10,000/day on these ads on Google alone and over $10,000/day on these ads through AdSense content network. Given how prevalent these ads have become, I don't doubt that we could be talking about that type of money.

Which means that Google is choosing to cash in while it can instead of doing the right thing and preventing users of its search network and the websites of AdSense publishers from being exposed to fraudulent schemes that could cause them a lot of hassle when they are fooled into signing up for services that are known to use deceptive practices. That's not very nice.

While Google is entitled to do what it pleases to make money and can wait and see if the FTC forces it to take action, you have to wonder if the recession and recent drop in share price have demagnetized Google's moral compass. For a company that told the world it would 'do no evil', it sure seems to be willing to sell advertising to businesses that are doing plenty of it.

Photo credit: L. Marie via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 25 March, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

Comments (3)

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

Changing its policy by now allowing bidding on gambling and alcohol terms also suggests a certain 'relaxation' in its moral/ethical stance in favour of hard cash.

It's interesting (and, for us mere mortals, somewhat heartening) to see Google showing the first signs of vulnerability of late. 

Perhaps the biggest challenge that Google will surely have to face before long is increased regulatory scrutiny and control. Whilst media companies like ITV and Channel 4 struggle to survive, Google gets remarkably little regulatory attention, despite being a much larger and much more powerful media company (which doesn't pay much in the way of tax to the UK government I was told?).

There have been continued privacy rumblings (e.g. its 'interest' targeting, Google Street View etc.) but I think there must be much bigger commercial and political challenges ahead.  

over 7 years ago

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Nick Rad

I agree with Iaax, it's just the tip of the iceberg. Google are as opaque and heavy-handed as the Soviet Union once was. Even Microsoft looks like a normal company compared to Google. It's not just the rapacious collecting of AdWords dollars, it's the way they handle AdSense accounts and a whole lot of other things.

over 7 years ago

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Ricardo candeias

I was banned from google adds, and done nothing wrong at all, i think that there was a couple of spikes on the ads clicking as I distributed leaflets in certain areas in my locality and due to that some increased ads viewing, but te advertising (leaflets) were only for my site. (not for the ads) but as they deemed questioonable they banned me..I even corresponded with them to lift the ban advising them I wouldn't advertise my site anymore, and any monies that were suspicious to be returned to the advertizers to show good faith ...but they wouldn't have it nor lifted the ban...and took all the money suspicious and not suspicious...I am not to bothered about the money just the implication that I done somenthing wrong which I did not + the fact that I have now a permanent ban, also my syster while living in my house tmporarily joined google ads and her just because we had the same IP she was banned too. since she has moved but they will not remove the ban..and on hers there weren't even any clicks worth mentioning maybe £1.00 so it certainly wasn't about clicking.

This proves you correct they do what they want and rule how they want having no one to respond to, they don't even have to reply to you...they say they have to protect advertisers and who protects advertisees...oh well..thanks for letting me vent...   :)

over 7 years ago

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