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PPC Ads, Misleading and Worse

October 9, 2006


Read Google's voluminous Adwords Content Policy, and you'd think Google is awfully tough on bad ads. If your company sells illegal drugs, makes fake documents, or helps customers cheat drug tests, you can't advertise at Google. Google also prohibits ads for fireworks, gambling, miracle cures, prostitution, radar detectors, and weapons. What kind of scam could get through rules like these?

As it turns out, lots of pay-per-click advertisers push and exceed the limits of ethical and legal advertising -- like selling products that are actually free, or promising their services are "completely free" when they actually carry substantial recurring charges. For example, the ad at right claims to offer "100% complimentary" and "free" ringtones, when actually the site promotes a services that costs approximately $120 per year.

An example misleading ad, falsely claiming ringtones are In False and Deceptive Pay-Per-Click Ads, I show more than 30 different advertisers' ads, all bearing claims that seem to violate applicable FTC rules (e.g. on use of the word "free"), or that make claims that are simply false. I then analyze the legal and ethical principles that might require search engines to remove these ads. Finally, I offer a mechanism for interested users to submit other false or deceptive ads they find.