Google says it has removed 'millions of ads in the past week' relating to coronavirus, but users are still seeing ads for products like face masks

AP Photo/Mark LennihanPeople wear masks as they cross the Brooklyn Bridge, Monday, March 16, 2020 in New York.
  • Weeks after Google said it banned adds for face masks, users still reported seeing them on news articles about COVID-19.
  • Sens. Mark Warner and Richard Blumenthal have called on the FTC to take action against Google for continuing to serve advertisements for products like face masks and hand sanitizers.
  • The company told Business Insider it’s removed millions of ads in the past week alone related to the novel coronavirus.
  • Google told Business Insider it has a “dedicated task force” working to remove such ads from companies violating its policies.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Weeks after Google said it was banning ads from companies attempting to profit off of panic surrounding the novel coronavirus, users still reported seeing ads for products like face masks served by Google Ads.

Journalist and “Recode Media” podcast host Peter Kafka on Saturday said he was served an ad for a face mask on an article about a shortage of medical supplies published by The New York Times.

“The more useful explanation is that Google’s ad ops aren’t set up to deal with an influx of bad actors trying to abuse it,” he wrote. “If this sounds familiar it’s because every big publishing platform has a version of that problem.”

“Google will catch up to this ad and ban it, but mask sellers will respond with new ads. They have lots of incentive to game the system,” Kafka added.

As Business Insider previously reported, the company on March 9 said it was temporarily banning ads for face masks, which lawmakers and health officials have said aren’t all that effective in preventing the spread of the disease and are best left to be worn by medical workers. Amid concerns over the lack of necessary medical supplies to combat the virus as US cases continue to rapidly rise, hospitals have already reported running low and re-using masks.

“We’re committed to protecting users and surfacing helpful, authoritative information as the coronavirus situation continues to evolve,” a spokesperson for Google said earlier in the month. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily ban all medical face mask ads. We’re actively monitoring the situation and will continue to take action as needed to protect users.”

Google previously removed advertisements that specifically mentioned the novel coronavirus by name, saying at the time it had already removed “hundreds of thousands of ads,” according to the Business Insider report.

A spokesperson for Google told Bussiness Insider on Saturday it had been removing advertisements mentioning the coronavirus since January.

“In the past few weeks, we’ve seen opportunistic advertisers try to run an unprecedented number of these ads on our platforms,” a spokesperson said. “We have a dedicated task force working to combat this issue and have removed millions of ads in the past week alone. We’re monitoring the situation closely and continue to make real-time adjustments to protect our users.”

Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut on Tuesday asked the Federal Trade Commission to take action against Google, CNN reported. The lawmakers – both Democrats – said their staffs still saw advertisements for face masks and hand sanitizer despite the Mountain View, California-based company’s ban on such advertisements.

“Google has made repeated representations to consumers that its policies prohibit ads for products such as protective masks. Yet the company appears not to be taking even rudimentary steps to enforce that policy,” the senators added, according to CNN.

On March 16 – one week after Google said it banned such ads – one user called out such face mask advertising on a Vox article about that detailed why masks weren’t effective in attempting to limit the spread of COVID-19 among the general population.

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