Google Got $10M for 'Deceptive' Abortion Ads

Ads directed searchers to centers that 'shame those seeking abortions,' per report
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 15, 2023 8:19 AM CDT
Google Profited $10M Showing 'Deceptive' Ads to Abortion Seekers
A sign advertises free pregnancy tests and abortion information outside the Woman's Choice Pregnancy Resource Center in Charleston, W.Va., on June 17, 2022.   (AP Photo/Leah M. Willingham, File)

People who use Google to search for "abortion pill" and "abortion clinic near me" are instead shown advertisements for crisis pregnancy centers whose goal is to dissuade individuals from accessing abortion. Over two years, Google accepted $10.2 million from anti-abortion groups to post such advertisements alongside legitimate search results for more than 15,000 different abortion-related queries, according to a Thursday report from the nonprofit Center for Countering Digital Hate, which conducts misinformation research. It found the ads had reached hundreds of thousands of users from March 2021 to February 2023, a period that included the overturning of Roe v. Wade and state attacks on abortion rights, the Guardian reports.

That's especially alarming as 68% of Google searchers can't tell the difference between an ad and a legitimate search result, per Quartz. "This is fundamentally about Google permitting extremely deceptive behavior and doing very little to actually ensure that people are informed," says CCDH CEO Imran Ahmed, per the Guardian. "Fake reproductive health clinics—sometimes called Crisis Pregnancy Centers—appear to offer independent advice on reproductive healthcare but are actually run by ideological anti-choice organizations who try to shame those seeking abortions," according to the report. Some 71% of CPCs identified used deceptive advertising, while 16% promoted misleading claims, including that abortion is linked to cancer, per Quartz.

Google says an organization seeking to advertise to people who search for abortion services must "be certified and clearly disclose whether they do or do not offer abortions." Yet 38% of CPC websites studied did not clearly state that abortion services are not provided, per the Guardian. Google is now the top source of referrals to these centers, according to the report. A previous study by the Tech Transparency Project found more than half of search ads shown to Google accounts representing low- to moderate-income women in Phoenix in response to search terms including "I want an abortion" were for CPCs—a finding experts said was likely to delay or prevent women from accessing a safe and legal abortion. (More Google stories.)

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