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How to spot spammy, seedy search ads on Google

Google is the #1 search engine and though their search ad offerings do work, they are hoping you will buy into ad hacking or scammy links.

person on google

It seems as if you can’t trust anyone online these days. Lifehacker reports that some Google ads are “malvertising” – which is a cyberattack method that injects malicious code into online ads. The ad looks legitimate, but when you click on it, you are directed to a different site, often one that claims your computer is “infected.”

It’s a serious problem for users because when you get to a malicious site, it appears to look like Windows Defender, telling you to download the “fix.” If you do click on anything, it can open your computer up to hackers.

Not a new problem

The Guardian reported on this problem in 2020. As early as 2018, the BBC brought fake and scammy ads to Google’s attention. Google changed its policy in 2020 to ban advertisements “for documents and/or services that can be obtained directly from a government or a delegated provider,” but the BBC reports that nothing changed.

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They still found ads for third-party services charging for services to send documents to the government that could be done free at the government’s website. The BBC reports that Google removed over 3.1 billion ads that violated policies in 2020. Google now verifies advertisers effective January 2021, but the problem persists.

Stop clicking on Google ads

If Google wants users to continue trusting its search results, this problem needs to be cleaned up. If you do click on a Google ad that leads you to a bad site, click out of the page immediately. Close the tab and do not click on anything on the page. Google tries to remove bad ads as soon as they are discovered, but it’s still possible that you could get hit by one that the bots and human evaluators miss.

Google’s ads are one way that they keep the platform free, but if hackers are using those ads to target users, Google is responsible for shutting them down. One way to get around it is to stop clicking on ads. When Google doesn’t make money, maybe they’ll find a better way to protect their users.

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Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.

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