Google is advertising bogus cancer treatments

I was disappointed to see that (despite LCN discussing related issues – on his blog and with Google – a while back) Google are still running ridiculous, potentially harmful adverts for bogus cancer treatments – in clear breach of UK advertising regulations. For example, if you google ‘cancer nutrition‘ you may well see an advert informing you how

94% of Doctors Don’t Know That you can Beat Stage IV Cancer w/out Chemotherapy or Radiation

This advert is potentially harmful to cancer patients: if they forgo evidence-based treatments for bogus ‘cures’, this could have very serious consequences. It is also in clear breach of UK advertising regulations. As the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) confirmed when I pointed out the advert to them, this advert does appear to be in clear breach of ASA Codes. I suspect that this advert may also run into problems with the UK’s Cancer Act. I should emphasise that online adverts in the UK are covered by UK regulations: these adverts are not acceptable on Google, just as they would not be acceptable in the print media (although I would hope that reputable print media would not run such adverts).

When I told Google about the large number of bogus cancer treatments that they advertise when one googles ‘cancer nutrition’ – and the regulatory issues around this – Google informed me that their adwords team review all adword adverts (although they said that this may take a short time). The advert mentioned in this post was online since at least 4/9/08, and Google replied to my initial e-mail about this issue on 17/9/08, so they are not exactly quick at dealing with unacceptable adverts.

Google is a company that willingly complies with unpleasant local laws in China – limiting the access of Chinese people to valuable information. On the other hand – despite having been alerted more than once to this issue – Google appears unwilling to block adverts for bogus cancer treatments which breach UK regulations.

Advertisements

8 Comments

Filed under cancer

8 responses to “Google is advertising bogus cancer treatments

  1. Is trading standards responsible for this type of activity?

    Might be worth giving them a call.

  2. gimpy

    This is an interesting issue, and not just in the context of Google searches. Most newspapers with an online presence use Google Ads as a revenue stream and often these ads are wildly inappropriate and often dangerous in a health context. No respectable and ethically minded newspaper in their right mind would dream of putting these in their print edition (not least because they’d likely find themselves sanctioned) yet it is considered acceptable online.
    As this editorial from the Guardian’s Readers Editor shows the blame is being put on Google algorithms, not on the people who allow Google Ads on their site. I have no idea if this is just an example of media organisations taking advantage of the moral hazards inherent in the largely legislatively immune nature of the internet – does the block of advertising space sold to Google Ads count as Guardian property and subject to UK law or is that Google’s business and is the Guardian responsible for content delivered by Google? Or is it just a case of The Guardian paying lip service to ethics in the print edition while happily raking money in from every trough available online.

    PS That goes for bloggers too, expect disapproving glares from me if you allow Google Ads and tolerate quack selling.

  3. “94% of Doctors Don’t Know That you can Beat Stage IV Cancer w/out Chemotherapy or Radiation”
    That claim does not surprise me – the people selling PolyMVA are telling people outright to ignore their oncologist, to refuse chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy and to choose an alternative cancer treatment instead. They were advertising on social networking sites like myspace and facebook as well as on more conventional commercial websites. I keep reporting them to the FDA’s Online Sales team, which I am only able to do as they are selling a medicinal product online. Wasn’t really sure how best to deal with those who have managed to separate their advice from their commercial activities or who sell advice in the form of e-books though.

    If these online adverts come under UK law and if they breach the 1939 Cancer Act then I’m pretty sure that Dr* T is correct and Trading Standards are the body to contact, as TS are able to enforce the 1939 Cancer Act.

    Links:
    1939 Cancer Act

    A post I wrote on PolyMVA

    FDA Online Sales Complaint Form

  4. Wulfstan

    Is it Trading Standards and the Cancer Act or the new rules? Quoted from your Cherry Active footnotes.

    The Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (pdf) has some thought-provoking sections. E.g., Clause 17 of the 31 banned practices makes it illegal to make a false medical claim for a product or service which may curb the claims that manufacturers can make but it is unclear whether there is still a loophole that allows charities to say what they wish. However, where a charity is charging money for an endorsement, it is not established whether this changes the picture.
    Clause 7.12 makes an offense of “misleading omissions”. – e.g., a nutritional therapist who fails to mention that research has shown that there is no evidence-base for a particular blood test where the omitted information would result in the “average consumer” acting differently – i.e., not purchasing the test.
    Clauses 14.35 to 14.37 apply to “vulnerable consumers”, and places an obligation traders to take particular care with products aimed at this group. E.g., a nutritional therapist who claims that a food supplement might benefit people with mental health problems might find themselves crossing the boundary of the acceptable. This might be policed more rigorously for claims involving vulnerable child populations.
    The Nutrition and Health Claims regulations substantially limit the claims that can be made without verification.

  5. Mojo

    Gimpy wrote: “I have no idea if this is just an example of media organisations taking advantage of the moral hazards inherent in the largely legislatively immune nature of the internet – does the block of advertising space sold to Google Ads count as Guardian property and subject to UK law or is that Google’s business and is the Guardian responsible for content delivered by Google?”

    Surely the Grauniad must count as a UK advertiser, and surely they must be responsible for the content of the online ads they carry just as much as the print versions?

    It’s certainly covered by the ASA:

    The types of ads we deal with include:

    Advertisements on the Internet, include banner ads and pop-up ads (not claims on companies’ own websites)

  6. Acleron

    What email addresses do you have for the relevant UK authorities and for Google?

  7. Thanks. To contact Google, click the ‘contact’ link at the bottom of this page http://adwords.google.com/select/Login

    Google are in the area covered by Westminster TS – http://www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/search/dbase/searchlocal.cfm

    (please be polite if contacting either organisation :) Especially Trading Standards, as I was slow contacting them, and it would be quite reasonable if they haven’t even read my e-mail yet)

  8. This is also against Google’s own advertising guidelines – the relevant section is called something like “miracle cures”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s