Google Profits from Illegal Olympic Ticket Ads

January 10, 2012

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) have revealed Google’s flagship automated ad service is profiting from illegal advertisements including London 2012 ads.

The ads in question include unofficial London 2012 Olympic ticket resellers, mixed in among the usual adland-riffraff of fake ID card sellers and cannabis suppliers.

Google has removed the offending Olympic ads following pressure from both the BBC and the metropolitan police.

The search giant is still set to benefit from the profits from these companies’ advertising before their removal.

The BBC’s 5 Live Investigating team highlighted one company called LiveOlympicTickets, whose ad had been appearing at the top of Google’s ranking for anyone searching for “Olympic tickets”.

Google’s AdWords advertising service is partly automated allowing many illegitimate companies to post ads.

While the system does filter key words that can help to highlight unlawful adverts, it is possible for some to slip through the cracks.

Selling tickets on the open market without permission from the Olympic authorities is a criminal offence in the UK under the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006.

However given that many of the illegal resellers are registered outside the UK, it could be difficult to prosecute.

The maximum penalty fine for reselling Olympic tickets without authorisation from the Olympic authorities was raised last year from £5,000 to £20,000.

Online retailers can simply buy their way to the top of Google’s ranking by paying more.

The very virtue of being listed by Google makes retailers seem genuine to customers, despite Google’s warning s that this isn’t always the case.

“Relying on an automated process is remarkably lax and typing key words into Google can show up illegal sites quite quickly,” online security adviser, Reg Walker told the BBC.

“We carried out an experiment around six months ago trying to knock a ticket scam site off the top of the Google AdWords results and we went up to £28 per click and we still couldn’t shift it from the top.”

“Just because it appears to have the weight of Google behind the advertisement, it doesn’t mean it’s legitimate – it can be quite the opposite,” he added.

This isn’t the first time that Google have come a cropper with their advertising. In August, Google agreed to pay out £324m ($501m) for publishing online adverts from Canadian pharmacies selling illegal drugs to US customers.