​Google's big crackdown: 1.7 billion bad ads axed, plus bans for 200 fake news sites

With a new policy after the US election, Google reveals the results of its actions to limit fake news sites.

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In the wake of Brexit and the US election, Facebook, Twitter, and Google were criticized for not doing enough to prevent fake news spreading on their platforms.

Image: Anatoliy Babiy, Getty Images

Google has released its 2016 Bad Ads report, to show how serious it is about combating deviants who abuse its massive ad network, from fraudulent advertisers to phony news sites.

The company says it axed 1.7 billion bad ads in 2016, just over double the 780 million it took down in 2015 for violating its various policies.

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In 2016 it also introduced important new policies to combat the rise of fake news. In the wake of Brexit and the US election, Facebook, Twitter, and Google were criticized for not doing enough to prevent fake news spreading on their platforms. In November, Google introduced a new AdSense policy for publishers to prevent fake news sites from generating ad revenue on its platform.

Since launching the policy, Google says it has permanently banned nearly 200 AdSense publishers for violating its new rules against "misrepresentative content".

"From November to December 2016, we reviewed 550 sites that were suspected of misrepresenting content to users, including impersonating news organizations. We took action against 340 of them for violating our policies, both misrepresentation and other offenses, and nearly 200 publishers were kicked out of our network permanently," says Google.

Another way Google has fought fake news is by cancelling "tabloid cloaker" accounts, which publish ads for bogus news sites. Google says it suspended over 1,300 tabloid cloaker accounts last year. In December it removed 22 such accounts that were responsible for fake tabloid news ads seen by 20 million in one week.

"To fight cloakers, we take down the scammers themselves, and prevent them from advertising with us again," says Google.

Google also disabled five million payday loan ads since introducing a policy in July to ban ads for loans with a 60-day repayment deadline, as well as US ads for loans with a 36 percent or higher interest rate.

Last year Google upgraded its automated systems, which helped it detect and disable 112 million ads designed to trick users, up 600 percent on last year. It also took down 68 million ads that violated its healthcare rules, 17 million illegal gambling ads, and 80 million misleading, shocking and deceptive ads.

Last year saw a rise in mobile ads that automatically flick users to an app store to download an app. In 2015 Google only disabled a few thousand of these ads, but in 2016 it detected and disabled 23,000 of them.

Ad networks have also proven a popular avenue to spread malware, such as 'malvertizing', where fraudsters buy display ads on popular news sites. Google says it took action against 15,000 sites for distributing unwanted software and disabled 900,000 ads that contained malware last year.

Google's record takedown of bad ads came as it and the wider online advertising and publishing industry figure out how to combat ad-blockers and solve the problems with ads that drive people to blockers.

As Google notes, it is one of the key supporters behind Coalition for Better Ads, which aims to improve the experience of online ads.

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