The COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating many existing problems in society, especially those dealing with cybersecurity. Google today talked about efforts to combat COVID-19 ad fraud, and recapped its work last year.

As with any crisis, malicious parties are using COVID-19 to take advantage of unsuspecting people. This includes creating fraudulent advertisements for face masks and other products in short supply.

These ads promoted products listed significantly above market price, misrepresented the product quality to trick people into making a purchase or were placed by merchants who never fulfilled the orders.

Since the start of the outbreak, Google has “closely monitored advertiser behavior” and assembled a COVID-19 task force. The group has improved existing enforcements systems and created new detection technology:

We’ve blocked and removed tens of millions of coronavirus-related ads over the past few months for policy violations including price-gouging, capitalizing on global medical supply shortages, making misleading claims about cures, and promoting illegitimate unemployment benefits.

That said, Google recognizes that NGOs, governments, hospitals, and healthcare providers want to use ads as PSAs. The company will adjust policies to “ensure that [it’s] protecting users while prioritizing critical information from trusted advertisers.”

Meanwhile, 2019 saw 2.7 billion bad ads blocked and removed, with 1 million advertiser accounts suspended for policy violations. Google also terminated 1.2 million publisher accounts and removed ads from 21 million pages.

One area of particular focus last year was against phishing and “trick-to-click” ads that mimic OS-level warnings. The former attempts to collect personal information, with Google noting a spike in passport-related renewal fraud.

In 2019, we assembled an internal team to track the patterns and signals of these types of fraudulent advertisers so we could identify and remove their ads faster. As a result, we saw nearly a 50% decrease of bad ads served in both categories from the previous year. In total, we blocked more than 35 million phishing ads and 19 million “trick-to-click” ads in 2019.

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