Following an undercover investigation by The Sunday Times, Google has pulled ads from shady companies that target vulnerable addicts who are seeking treatment and funnel them toward expensive private rehabilitation clinics.
The ads are believed to have made Google millions of pounds in the UK, with the internet giant charging the referral agents as much as £200 every time someone clicked on the advertised link at the top of a Google search page.
These brokers, which pose as free advice helplines, are able to easily afford Google’s rates, as they can receive as around £20,000 each month for referring just one person to a clinic.
In the US, Google doesn’t take ads from referral agents – with the practice being illegal in several states. However, in the UK, there are no regulations or laws in place to prevent immoral actions like this from occurring, and Google has been taking advantage of this by creating a bidding war between referral agents.
Google has said the US ban on ads of this nature will, at least for the time being, also apply to the UK.
Google provided us with the following statement: “We work to help healthcare providers – from doctors to hospitals and treatment centres – get online and connect with people who need their help. Substance abuse is a growing crisis and has led to deceptive practices by intermediaries that we need to better understand. In the US, we restricted ads entirely in this category and we have decided to extend this to the UK as we consult with local experts to update our policy and find a better way to connect those that need help with the treatment they need.”
This story has been updated to include Google's statement and make it clearer what the company's stance is in the UK.