This week, a collective sigh of relief from security professionals and systems administrators echoed through cyberspace (OK, social media).
Google has finally decided not to run ads for third-party technical support providers. You know, those search results that show up when you hit Google to figure out some obscure computer problem or a virus.
Tech support scammers paid for their ads to float to the top of the search results so they could rip off innocent people looking for help.
Lately, scammers have become more brazen and planted malware and ransomware on victims’ computers, stolen personal information, and other damaging activities.
While it’s good that Google, after all these years, no longer earns money out of scams, the whole fiasco points to some big (literally) problems with online advertising currently.
Thing is, Google has had to can all tech support provider ads worldwide. That’s because it can’t work out which ones are the “bad actors” and which ones are legit.
If honest and good tech support is your business, don’t expect to advertise it on Google.
Not for a while at least, until Google figures out a verification system, similar to local locksmiths and drug addiction treatment centres, to filter out the scammers from the real tech support providers.
How big a problem is bad advertising then?
Well, we’re talking internet scale bad here so it’s really absolutely monstrously, enormously big.
Google killed more than 3.2 billion ads last year for violating its policies.
As the company proudly put it: “That’s more than a 100 bad ads per second.”
That’s obviously just a fraction of the tens of billions of ads that Google serves each day, but it’s still a very large number and targeted at specific victims.
Just like the fake Facebook ads and pages that were used to influence voters during general elections in Western countries planted by nation-state operatives, tech support scammers have low barriers of entry technically.
It’s easy to set up websites linked from search results that, at first glance, appear to be legitimate.
Deceptive advertising is, of course, nothing new.
But doing it at internet scale when you can reach millions of victims around the world in seconds is unprecedented.
There’s never been anything like it until the last few decades.
The internet isn’t the problem here. Instead, it’s the companies that serve up the ads that are so numerous that they cannot possibly keep track of what lands on users’ computers until it’s too late.
If that doesn’t spell out that the likes of Google and Facebook have become too large and need to be split up, I don’t know what does.