AOL, Facebook, Google, the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), Twitter and others have created an alliance to stop bad online advertisements. The team will lead participating partners Mozilla to PayPal, Verizon, Verisign and others.
The group, Ads Integrity Alliance, falls under the parent company Stopbadware. Founded in 2006 as a project at Harvard University, Stopbadware spun off as a nonprofit organization in 2010 to focus on ridding the Internet of malware and malicious viruses such as Trojans, rootkits, and spam bots, according to Maxim Weinstein, executive director for the company.
Weinstein said the group will start by focusing on text-based ads, such as paid search. This is a challenge, he said, because someone doesn't typically review each ad before it's posted online. A machine must catch the error. With more platforms like Twitter and Facebook joining Google by moving more to automated systems, that could become complicated.
"We see a lot of counterfeit goods and malware being carried through Flash-based ads," Weinstein said. "The criminal is doing everything he can to exploit loopholes, and that's what we're hoping to address."
Each company participating in the alliance supports a team within their respective organizations working to stop bad ads. The formal committee will meet once monthly to share ideas and share information on trends and attacks through subcommittees. The working groups will meet as often as needed. Weinstein said the groups will form policies and procedures to share with others and build a structure that will allow others to adopt the practices.
Not catching illegal ads can put a financial burden on search engines. Last year, Google settled a U.S. criminal investigation into allegations it made millions of dollars by accepting ads from online pharmacies that break U.S. laws. Rogue pharmaceutical ads have been a thorn in the search engines' side, but Weinstein points to handbags and other consumer goods.
There's no shortage of counterfeit, misleading and damaging ads that can cost reputable brands buying paid-search ads on engines -- not only financially, but the ads can also ruin their reputation.
While Google said bad ads continue to decline -- disabling more than 130 million in 2011 -- the engine merely scratched the surface, reducing bad ads by about 50% from the prior year. In 2011, Google shut down approximately 150,000 accounts for attempting to advertise counterfeit goods, and more than 95% of these accounts were discovered through its own technology.