GOOGLE has been accused of profiteering from anti-vaxxers as five companies have pulled online adverts.
An investigation has discovered Google placed ads on websites that spread “dangerous nonsense” about the coronavirus and vaccines.
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Currys PC World, JD Sports, Sotheby’s, Jigsaw and Accenture have all told the online tech giant to remove their ads from websites that promote false claims that vaccines cause autism and anyone who has had Covid-19 will have a tracking chip implanted in them.
A Sunday Times investigation found that Google was accepting web pages that violated its policies and because of that was earning millions of pounds in revenue from its digital advertising platform.
Google takes around 30 per cent of the money generated.
Four of the “conspiracy” websites, which collectively get around 500million visits a year, are estimated to earn about £3.5m annually via Google’s AdSense platform, according to research by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH).
Each was accepted as a partner by Google and displayed ads from a number of well-known companies, which are automatically filled by the online giant.
Just two days ago Prime Minister Boris Johnson blasted anti-vaxxers as "nuts" and urged everyone to get the flu vaccine this summer.
During a visit to a GP centre, as part of a drive to help protect the NHS this winter ahead of a possible second coronavirus wave, he said: “There's all these anti-vaxxers now.
"They are nuts, they are nuts."
A recent survey found that one in four Brits may refuse a Covid-19 vaccine even if it proved to be safe and effective.
'THEY ARE NUTS'
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has previously warned that misinformation is a “major threat” to global health, amid a surge in anti-vaccination sentiment fuelled by false claims spread online.
The paper found an ad for Currys PC World next to text claiming Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, “will link your identity to your vaccination history”.
A JD Sports ad was placed next to an image of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director-general of the WHO, with a caption claiming Covid-19 vaccines will be fitted with chips that “will track you”.
An ad for Accenture, the global consultancy company, was found next to text claiming that China “stole coronavirus from Canada and weaponised it”.
Jigsaw and Sotheby’s ads were found on a website linking vaccines to autism.
All five companies ordered Google to remove their ads from the websites after the paper informed them of their findings.
'MAJOR THREAT TO GLOBAL HEALTH'
Imran Ahmed, chief executive of the CCDH, warned that the websites identified were likely “just a small proportion of those profiting from medical misinformation”.
He told the paper: “Placing adverts for household name brands next to false and misleading stories helps to legitimise dangerous nonsense, while the money these brands inadvertently pay helps fake news websites spread their poison to even more readers.”
While Google has taken extentive action to scrub bogus Covid-19 stories from its news service, it is also placing ads on websites promoting such claims.
Google said it would pull ads from three articles highlighted by the investigation after they were found to violate its policies.
From next month, Google said it would ban websites from showing ads next to content promoting conspiracy theories about Covid-19.
A Google spokeswoman told The Sun Online: “Google has strict publisher policies designed to prevent harmful, dangerous and fraudulent content from monetising.
"We are deeply committed to elevating quality content across Google products and that includes protecting people from medical misinformation.
"We recently announced additional safeguards to prohibit content about a health crisis that contradicts scientific consensus from monetising.
"Any time we find publishers that violate our policies, we take immediate action.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s select committee last week warned that until a duty of care was imposed on firms, it would not be compelled to act.
Its report raised fears of a significant public health impact, with false claims meaning “some people have mistakenly turned to unproven home remedies [or] stopped taking ibuprofen and prescribed medicine”.
The government said it was developing “world-leading plans” to put a legal duty of care on online platforms.
Currys PC World said: “We have a very strict policy in place with Google to ensure that our advertising doesn’t appear against unscrupulous content.”
Sotheby’s said it would address the findings immediately.
JD Sports said: “We’re grateful this has been drawn to our attention.”
Jigsaw said: “We have taken immediate action to make sure all of our advertising is removed from this website.”
Accenture said it would “ensure our advertisements are removed from that site”.
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