A.G. Works with Google to Curb Misleading Ads for Viral STD 'Cures'

BALTIMORE (April 01, 2010) – Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced today the successful outcome of a cooperative effort between the Office of the Attorney General and Google, Inc. to curb the prevalence of false or misleading advertisements touting cures for viral sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) on Google’s search result pages. Because of this effort, Google has greatly improved its mechanisms for screening out these ads, thereby reducing Maryland consumers’ exposure to financial and health risks.

When a person uses Google’s search engine, text ads that relate to the words or topic being searched may appear in the “Sponsored Links” sections on the top or right hand side of the page. These text ads are delivered through Google’s online advertising program called AdWords, and appear alongside the search results if they are relevant to the user’s query.

Previously, a Google search for cures for STDs like Hepatitis B, herpes, or mononucleosis – viral STDs for which there is no cure – generated several AdWords advertisements for products that claimed “guaranteed” or “proven” cures. Concerned about the threat posed to Maryland consumers by these misleading ads and the products they advertised, Attorney General Gansler contacted Google, informed the company of the problem, and recommended that strong action be taken to reduce the threat.

Google already has a policy in place that prohibits the advertisement of “miracle cures” through its AdWords program. Google responded to Attorney General Gansler’s concerns by agreeing to add herpes, hepatitis B, and mononucleosis to its list of health conditions for which AdWords ads for “miracle cures” are prohibited. It also agreed to examine its existing methods of screening out such dubious ads and to make improvements where possible.

Google has now made modifications in several areas, with the result being that far fewer of these misleading ads are reaching Maryland consumers through Google’s search engine. Google has also pledged to continue to expand its protections against such ads as it learns of new and better ways to do so. Finally, as a result of Attorney General Gansler’s inquiry, Google has renewed its commitment to work proactively to ensure that health-related advertisements appearing on its web site via AdWords do not expose consumers to undue health risks.

Source: Office of Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler

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