Google Urged To Stamp Out Misleading Abortion Ads

Two Democratic lawmakers are urging Google to more aggressively root out false abortion-related information in search ads.

“We ask you to address issues with misrepresentation in advertising on Google's site and take a more expansive, proactive approach to addressing violations of Google's stated policy,” Senator Mark Warner (D-Virginia) and Representative Elissa Slotkin (D-Michigan) say in a letter sent Tuesday to CEO Sundar Pinchai.

Earlier this year, Google updated its default settings to only show verified abortion clinics in the local search results, in response to queries for health care providers that provide abortions, such as “abortion clinics near me.”

But searches for some other abortion-related terms are resulting in misleading ads for fake clinics, according to a September report by the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate and Bloomberg News.

For that report, researchers conducted 250 searches for phrases including as “Plan C pill,” and “Planned Parenthood.”

Those searches resulted in 132 misleading ads for fake clinics. Some of the ads also featured potentially deceptive phrases like “the abortion pill” or “free abortion consultations” in the text, according to the report.

The lawmakers added that the nonprofit Tech Transparency Project recently found that even when ads on Google from anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy centers” carried disclaimers, the ads also included language like “free abortion pill” and “first trimester abortion.”

“Such deceptive advertising likely reduces the effectiveness of labels and may lead to detrimental health outcomes for users who receive delayed treatment,” the lawmakers write.

The elected officials are now asking Pichai “to take proactive action” to correct issues surrounding misleading search ads.

They are also asking Pichai to answer questions about its policies regarding abortion ads, including how Google determines whether search queries are related to abortion access, and what additional steps it plans to take to remove misleading ads.

A Google spokesperson said the company has “clear and longstanding policies that govern abortion-related ads on our platforms,” and doesn't allow advertisers to misrepresent their products or services. The spokesperson added that Google reviewed ads flagged by the Tech Transparency Project and removed those that violated company policies.

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