Google takes down 93,000 scam ads

The company took down thousands of fraud-related ads and handed over user data in three-quarters of cases at government request in the second half of 2010
Written by Tom Espiner, Contributor on

Google has revealed that it took down over 93,000 ads linking to scam sites from July to December last year, in response to requests from UK consumer protection authorities.

The figures for AdWords-related removals in the last half of 2010 were released as part of the Google Transparency Report on Monday. In the report, the company tallies the amount of content it has taken off its AdWords service and its search, Google Images, YouTube, Street View, Blogger and Google Video sites, after receiving submissions from government bodies.

"The UK's Office of Fair Trading requested the removal of fraudulent ads that linked to scams," Google said in the report. "We complied with the request and removed 93,360 items in total."

Digital fraud is a significant problem for British consumers, according to Action Fraud. The UK's national scam reporting centre said 23 percent of incidents submitted were carried out online. That figure includes cons such as fraudulent adverts, ticketing scams and dodgy online auctions.

Google also said that it had fully or partially agreed to 89 percent of applications for content removal made by British courts, executive bodies and police. The 38 requests made by UK authorities covered 93,518 items, which were taken down for reasons of fraud, defamation and copyright infringement.

We're also clearly disclosing the reasons why we’ve been asked to remove content — such as an allegation of defamation or hate speech.
– Matt Braithwaite, Google

That marks an increase over the 76 percent of 59 requests Google complied with in July to December 2009. The company did not conduct an item count for that period. From January to June 2010, it carried out 63 percent of 48 content-removal requests, with 232 items taken down.

The new report provides information not available in previous editions of the report, Matt Braithwaite of Google's transparency engineering unit said in a blog post on Monday.

"We've changed the format so you can now see data on a country-by-country basis," he said."We're also clearly disclosing the reasons why we’ve been asked to remove content — such as an allegation of defamation or hate speech."

Requests for user data

In addition, the report now gives percentage breakdowns for requests for user data, which includes information on accounts and IP addresses.

"For the first time, we're also revealing the percentage of user data requests we've complied with, in whole or in part," Braithwaite said.

British law enforcement agencies topped European requests for user data, with 1,162 applications. Google turned over data in 72 percent of cases. By comparison, Google complied with 56 percent of France's 1,021 data requests, and 60 percent of Italy's 837 requests.

The UK authorities have consistently made the most requests for user data in Europe. From July to December 2009, the UK made 1,166 requests, while from January to June 2010, the UK made 1,343 requests.

In the report on Monday, the US led in all countries tallied, with 4,601 user data requests from government bodies. In 94 percent of cases, Google handed over the information.

Not all countries where Google has a presence are covered by the transparency report. For example, no listings were available for China user data requests.

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