Google Healthcare Ads and False Claims

Jeanne Sather has written a longer response to my post on Google Coop for Health. Instead of leaving it as a “comment” I’ve decided to post it here as an article, because she has raised an important issue about Google Ads, which this site uses. By the way I’d love to use blogads, if I can get an invite from someone, because I’ve written them several times and haven’t heard a peep from the admins.

Google has a lot to answer for in the ads that it runs on the Web. The company has been very irresponsible in carrying ads for products that are nothing more than snake oil.

I wrote about this in 2003, and the situation is no better. I refuse to use Google Ads on my blog, and I encourage you to use another ad service, blogads, perhaps.

I love the Google search engine, but I don’t love the company any more. If you search for a cancer-related topic on Google, up pops a sponsored link selling a “New Coral Calcium Complex From Okinawa,” which, according to the ad, is a cure for cancer and the reason Okinawans live so long.

I sent a letter to CEO Dr. Eric E. Schmidt by snail mail and an e-mail to the PR department that I asked to be forwarded to Schmidt.

The letter said, in part:

It is EXTREMELY irresponsible of Google to accept [this] . . . sponsored link to run on pages where a user searches for “cancer.”

If you are a medical doctor, then you know this is bogus. You probably also know that the people of Okinawa are long-lived because of a diet that includes about three or four times as many servings of fruits and vegetables (real food, not supplements) as the recommended “five a day” we Americans try to eat.

You should be ashamed of yourself for accepting this kind of advertising. . . .

I received a very polite reply from a woman identified only as “Heather from the GoogleAdWords Team” that said, in part:

Google believes strongly in freedom of expression and therefore offers broad access to content across the Web without censoring results. . . . You may be aware that a different set of laws and regulations apply to commercial speech (advertising) than to the search results we show when you do a Google search. As a business, Google must make decisions about where we draw the line in regards to the advertising we accept, both from a legal and company values perspective. . . .

Since I received this letter, Google has announced that it will hire a third-party company to verify online pharmacies before allowing them to advertise on the site. It’s not clear, however, whether this will include only online pharmacies, or if it will also include companies that sell unregulated products like the marine-grade coral.

Write to Google, ask them to stop accepting ads for bogus products that prey on the hopes of people who are dangerously ill. Here’s Heather’s e-mail address:

This is an excerpt from a longer piece, Running With Fear

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