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Another day, another way tech giants are found to be profiting handsomely from unsavory ad practices. Today brings the news, as reported by the Sunday Times, that Google has reaped “millions” from shady companies that advertise online as help lines for people suffering from addiction, but in reality funnel those people to expensive private clinics, earning huge commissions.
The basic idea is simple, and sound: someone searching for “help quitting pain pills” or something like that should be connected with the appropriate resources, and ostensibly that’s what help lines like those investigated by the Sunday Times’ undercover crew do.
Clinics - Tens - Thousands - Dollars - Services
But profit-oriented private clinics, which charge tens of thousands of dollars for their services, have begun offering huge referral rewards for sending patients their direction. And the referrers, in order to snag these people in need before the competition, have begun paying more and more for prime Google placement.
The report shows that referrers were paying as much as £200, around $270, for a single clickthrough. But that’s just a drop in the bucket if they successfully refer someone to a clinic, earning ten or twenty grand. Plus it bought them consultation with Google representatives who reportedly helped keep them at the top of the results.
People - Help - Arrangements
It may be that the people looking for help did eventually find it. But naturally, they were not informed of any of these financial arrangements.
Might be nice to know that the ostensibly objective help line you’re calling is earning huge commissions from the places it refers you to, right? That’s why “patient brokering,” as it’s sometimes called, is banned in much of the US. And why Google doesn’t allow these kinds of ads here; it banned the whole category in September.
Statement - Google - Today - Ban
In a statement, Google said that it had today decided to make that ban...
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