Google is profiting from ads for illegal products generated by its pay per click advertising system.The ads include unofficial London 2012 Olympics ticket resellers, as well as cannabis and fake ID card sellers.
Google has since taken down links to illegal Olympic ticket resellers following requests from the police.
But the search engine confirms that the company keeps any money it might make from companies advertising illegal services before such adverts are removed.
Selling tickets on the open market without permission from the Olympic authorities is a criminal offence in the UK under the London Olympic and Paralympic Games Act 2006.
The maximum penalty fine for reselling Olympic tickets without authorisation from the Olympic authorities was raised last year from £5,000 to £20,000.
Despite this, Google has placed adverts for unofficial ticket resellers which are breaking the law by selling London 2012 tickets to customers in the UK.
But research found other sponsored Google adverts – for online cannabis sellers, fake ID cards, and fake UK passports.
Google’s Pay Per Click AdWords advertising system is partly automated and this helps make the initial selection of the advertisements which appear at the top of its search results.
Google’s AdWords does filter key words that can help sift out adverts which might be offering unlawful services.
If a filter flags an advert, then Google will run a manual assessment – a human takes a look – and if it breaks Google’s policy, the advert will be taken down.
In a statement, Google said: “We have a set of policies covering which ads can and cannot show on Google. These policies and guidelines are enforced by both automated systems and human beings.
“When we are informed of ads which break our policies, we investigate and remove them if appropriate. Our aim is to create a simple and efficient way for legitimate businesses to promote and sell their goods and services whilst protecting them and consumers from illicit activity.”
However, dubious online retailers are still finding their way to the top of the advert results and can do so by paying a higher cost per click than other advertisers.
Google says the quality of ads also plays a role in the ranking advertisers achieve, as well as the price the advertiser is willing to pay.
Google’s sponsored links have proved costly in the past and, in August, Google agreed to forfeit £324 million ($500 million) for publishing online adverts from Canadian pharmacies selling illegal drugs to US customers.