No -- we're talking about criminal PPC here. One can almost imagine the morning newsroom meeting at The Times. Every few months they must wonder aloud what Google is up to and how they can be caught out. Every few months an investigation by the paper unveils some other lapse in corporate governance or, at the very least, a lack of control over what appears on its platforms.
We have had a string of findings over Google-owned YouTube embarrassing brands by allowing them to advertise alongside hate speech and terror videos. There was a promise to do better, but then The Times found that things were not completely remedied in a follow-up.
Today we have a story that should embarrass the tech giant even more than these previous findings, although it is unlikely to lead to a boycott, as they did. This is about Google's oversight of its platform, rather than brand image.
Read today's article and you will be left scratching your head. How on earth could Google be so stupid?
The sting was amazingly simple. The Times pretended to have a company selling fake IDs, passports and reviews. They did so because of whispers that Google allows companies to advertise against these terms. The pretend company was soon allowed to register on Google and start bidding on a variety of search terms. These included, "buy fake reviews", "buy fake IDs," "fake disability parking permits," and so on.
Apparently, clicks were costing around 57p to 69p. Attempts to buy advertising against searches for guns and fake credit numbers were turned down -- but that still left plenty of unsavoury terms to bid against.
Google even sent encouraging emails for the company to bid some more and widen the terms it was using, although the paper concedes this was likely to have been a generic sales email.
The Times came clean with Google and the search giant no longer accepting bids on the search terms the newspaper was bidding on.
Nevertheless, the campaign has angered Lord Harris of Haringey, chairman of National Trading Standards. He is quoted in the report saying: “If Google is allowing these adverts that is wrong and irresponsible.”
It just beggars belief. Either the search giant is willing to turn a blind eye to dubious companies looking to be seen next to highly dubious search results. Or maybe it does take a moral stance, but can't enforce it. Perhaps these terms just slipped through the net?
Whatever the truth is, neither of these situations is a good reflection of Google -- a company that has repeatedly been shown to not live up to the standards it claims to hold.