How Google profits from illegal advertising -- and keeps the money even after getting caught

by Ben Sheffner 01/10/2012 10:32 (UTC-08:00) Pacific Time (US & Canada)

The BBC has an interesting report highlighting the fact that Google’s advertising services distribute large numbers of ads for illegal services, in this case unauthorized brokers of tickets to the 2012 Olympics in London. The BBC piece notes that Google removes the ads upon requests from police (or when they’re informed by the BBC that they’re about to be the subject of an embarrassing news report) – but also that Google keeps “keeps any money it might make from companies advertising illegal services before such adverts are removed.”

A couple points relevant to the debate over SOPA and the PROTECT IP Act:

• Advertising by purveyors of illegal products and services is a huge problem. Even without the enhanced procedures contained in SOPA and PROTECT IP, Google says that “In 2010, we took action on our own initiative against nearly 12,000 sites for violating this policy” against advertising by “infringing sites.” And in 2011, it took action on 12,000 more. While it’s nice that Google removed these ads “on [its] own initiative,” this clearly hasn’t solved the problem, and more needs to be done.


• Google readily admits that it profits from advertising of illegal services. It keeps its ill-gotten advertising gains – even after being informed by the police of their tainted source. Google could easily choose to hand over these corrupt proceeds to law enforcement, or to other worthy causes devoted to combating illegal online activities. But apparently its commercial interests trump doing the right thing. (One would have thought that having to pay a $500 million settlement for “knowingly show[ing] illegal ads for fraudulent Canadian pharmacies” would have tempered Google’s willingness to serve and profit from ads for illegal services. Apparently not.)

This is all just a reminder that many of the opponents of SOPA and PROTECT IP, while they like to portray themselves as brave Internet freedom-fighters, are in reality doing little more than protecting their own business interests. They profit from illegal activities, and they will vigorously resist legislation that seeks to put this practice to an end.

Categories: Content Protection, Copyright, Policy

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