How Google Ads Are Dangerously Misleading Some People

The Tech Transparency Group, a watchdog agency that aims to expose misinformation online, found evidence that suggests that Crisis Pregnancy Centers use Google ads to misinform women about abortive services that they do not offer.

By Jennifer Hollohan | Published

News of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v Wade escalated the debate between the pro-life and pro-choice crowds. Now that debate is spilling over into the technology sphere. And this week, Google Ads got caught in the crosshairs.

An independent group known as the Tech Transparency Project monitors tech giants and is on a mission to expose any poor conduct. They describe themselves as a research segment of the  Campaign for Accountability. And the project is run by individuals on both sides of the political aisle. 

Originally called the Google Transparency Project when it started in 2016, TTP has now started to research all major technology companies. A team of scholars, journalists, and policymakers conduct research on topics most important to the American public. And one of their new reports got released yesterday.

The latest report heavily criticized Google Ads policy implementation and monitoring. According to the report, crisis pregnancy centers are using deceptive advertising. The report claims that these ads violate the search engine’s strict policies.

The Tech Transparency Project specifically cites two of those policies in its report. First, the prohibition against ads pretending to “provide critical services that result in a delay to the user receiving treatment or medical help.” And second, Google’s rule against “providing misleading information about products, services, or businesses.”

According to a CNET news report, many crisis pregnancy center ads populate when users search for terms such as “first trimester abortion” and “free abortion pill.” However, the Google ads that populate all state “does not provide abortions” in the ad text. For the TTP, that stipulation is not enough.

google ads

The critics argue that the font on that notice is too small and easily missed by users. They also take issue with what Planned Parenthood deems “fake clinics” for the offered pregnancy counseling. The TTP report says that these clinics try to encourage women not to choose abortion.

And that is the primary reason TTP accuses the crisis pregnancy centers of knowingly violating Google Ads policy against misrepresentation. But Google has a different perspective on the matter. Their official position is that they apply their policies equally across the board.

Per an official statement, Google said “We require any organization that wants to advertise to people seeking information about abortion services to be certified and prominently disclose whether they do or do not offer abortions.” The same statement claimed they remove ads that misrepresent services or offers. However, TTP disagrees.

According to the non-profit organization, Google Ads has a track record of missing scams during the screening process. They cite supposedly problematic ads around voter registration, student loan debt relief, and stimulus checks. However, based on reporting from CNET, TTP did not provide evidence to back up these claims.

Given the volatile nature surrounding the abortion debate, news of the TTP report comes at a critical time. Individuals on both sides are increasingly seeking information, either for their own education or for abortion services. Thanks to independent watchdogs, answers may become easier to find and trust.