Commentary

Google Needs To Crack Down On Financial Scammers

Could Google be facing another class action in the UK? It seems possible today after The Telegraph featured a legal opinion yesterday that concluded that by allowing scammers to advertise, the tech giant might be liable to being sued for "unjust enrichment."

The tech giant has, of course, already lost the opening legal battle in its fight against Google You Owe Us. The movement has launched joint action against the tech giant for the so-called Safari workaround, through which it is alleged it processed iPhone users' information it was not entitled to receive. The cost of any final payout, if it continues to lose the legal argument, has been placed as high as GBP3bn.

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The latest potential case could see British savers sue Google for failing to block scammers buying paid search links at the top of its search results. 

The Financial Conduct Authority takes the issue so seriously that it is pressing the Government to add protection from financial harms to the duty of care to upcoming legislation to protect British internet users from online harm.

The Telegraph believes that as many as 4,000 members of the public could be being duped every year to part with their savings by online con men who appear to be legitimate because they hide behind websites that appear at the top of Google's search results pages.

In total, it is believed that around GBP50m was lost to cyber criminals through such schemes in 2018 alone. 

it would seem plausible that Google would, at some stage, have to hold up its hands and offer at least an apology or some sort of monetary offer.

However, when the tech giant has been pushed on the issue, the story appears to be one in which it closes down the advertising option to con men once they are discovered. However, the ease with which a new site and brand identity can be created means they are usually back buying paid-search links under a different name almost immediately. 

The Telegraph article finishes with a balanced view suggesting that as long as Google is attempting to take down scammers and can claim it really has no idea that those who get through were intending to steal money, it is unlikely to face further sanction.

The FCA may be listened to, and financial harm may be added to the upcoming duty-of-care legislation, but I wouldn't hold my breath.

The feeling you come away with from this article is that scammers are immune. They can keep changing their identity and Google can keep on saying they didn't realise it was the same people using a different name, and the world keeps on turning and people keep on losing their savings. 

Something has to change -- but I doubt it will be another class action.

Perhaps Google could be restricted to selling financial services ads to officially registered companies overseen by the FCA, or some other licensing body?

Surely that would be a good start, and certainly a lot better than allowing anyone to solicit people to send their life savings in return for being signed up to a get-rich-quick scheme?

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