Google removes “deceptive” pregnancy center ads


(AP Photo/Alan Diaz, File)

Google is removing Web search ads for some "crisis pregnancy centers," after an investigation by NARAL Pro-Choice America found evidence that the ads violate Google's policy against deceptive advertising.

"We have no problem with crisis pregnancy centers advertising online; we have no problem with their existing," said Illyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "That is their right in America." But Hogue said NARAL objects to the way the centers have been promoted online, with ads that include text indicating that the centers provide abortions.

According to an analysis by NARAL, 79 percent of the crisis pregnancy centers that advertised on Google indicated that they provided medical services such as abortions, when, in fact, they are focused on counseling services and on providing information about alternatives to abortion.

According to the advocacy group, which presented its findings to Google after monitoring the ads, the crisis pregnancy centers intentionally used false and misleading language on ads that appeared when users searched for "abortion clinic."

Google policy states that advertisements must be "factually supportable," as well as truthful and accurate. Advertisers who do not comply with Google policies may see their ads rejected or their domains disabled or accounts suspended.

Google said in a statement that it had applied its ad policy standards in this case and followed normal company procedures.

"We're constantly reviewing ads to ensure they comply with our AdWords policies, which include strict guidelines related to ad relevance, clarity, and accuracy," the company said in a statement.  "If we find violations, we'll take the appropriate actions — including account disablings and blacklists — as quickly as possible."

Several groups have launched campaigns over the years to change the content that appears on Google pages, both in ads and as a result of searches. Most recently, several state attorneys general have asked Google to make it more difficult to search for false prescription drugs and illegal drugs online.

The firm has taken a guarded approach to blocking content from its search pages. In this case, however, NARAL was able to demonstrate that the ads directly violated Google's own policies, Hogue said.

Hogue said that NARAL will begin appealing to other search engines to examine ads for crisis pregnancy centers.

"We're pleased with Google's leadership," Hogue said. "People depend on their search engines to provide them with accurate information... We're hoping other actors will follow suit."

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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Hayley Tsukayama · April 28