Google’s free-market style advertising system has come under fire…again. This time the business has been forced to remove ads for drug treatment centres in the UK.
Here’s what happened.
Unbeknownst to Google, an arrangement had been made by treatment centres and advertisers (fine so far) that would sell, not clicks, but referrals for tens of thousands of dollars. The demand for these referrals spiked the cost of clicks and led to a price of around $300USD.
That’s the price per click.
This led to Google sales teams getting involved (because that’s a huge amount of money being spent on each click) and helping the advertisers get as many clicks as possible. Makes sense; that’s good business.
Google gets paid, the referrer gets thousands of dollars in referral fees and the drug addicts get the help they need.
But this is known as ‘patient brokering,’ a practice that is frowned on around the world, is flat out illegal in the United States, and one that Google – apparently – does not take part in.
Google has responded quickly in pulling the ads, but the problem isn’t that they existed, it’s that the Google teams assisting the advertisers didn’t raise any red flags when it became obvious (likely very quickly) that patient brokering was taking place. This is after all healthcare – an area that is often placed under tight advertising scrutiny, and with good reason.
The lack of an immediate response and the support that followed shows a potential cultural issue in Google UK, where the founding guiding principle of ‘Don’t be Evil’ was stretched to its limit.
But with so many sites freely selling clicks through Google’s infrastructure to advertisers, a few bad apples are sure to get into the basket…but is that good enough for one of the most important businesses to have ever existed? With the wounds surrounding Google News still fresh, is it time for Google to review how it makes money, and put more checks and balances in place?