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As Fake Clinics Trick People in Online Searches, Google Is Silent

Nicole Knight

“We’ve had folks tell us as recently as last week that advertisements and listings for fake clinics are still showing up [on Google]."

Google is remaining mum in the wake of an ongoing public campaign criticizing the search giant over misleading search results and maps.

Google has faced mounting pressure from activists to crack down on its paid ads, search, and map results that direct people who are searching for abortion services instead to crisis pregnancy centers, fake clinics that don’t offer abortion services and advocate against abortion.

“We’ve had folks tell us as recently as last week that advertisements and listings for fake clinics are still showing up,” said Karin Roland, chief campaigns officer with UltraViolet, one of the advocacy groups lobbying Google. “We think it’s about time they did something,” Roland said of the Mountain View-based company. Google did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the campaign and its ad policies.

Earlier reports from Rewire.News, Gizmodo, and the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America revealed that so-called crisis pregnancy centers, which are run by abortion foes, routinely appear in Google searches, ads, and maps when searchers type in terms such as, “where can I get an abortion near me?”

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Activists call the search results, ads, and map results deceptive and a violation of Google’s policy against misrepresentation.

The fact that Google has proven unable to rein in the inaccurate search results and ads, Roland believes, makes the tech company “complicit in misleading women about abortion options.”

Google previously said it removed misleading crisis pregnancy center search listings following a Rewire.News report late last year. At the time, a spokesperson for the search giant couldn’t say how many it had removed. Google’s policy bars “giving misleading information about products, services, or businesses” and “making offers that aren’t actually available.”

“In a perfect world I think Google would stick to their policy and their word,” Roland told Rewire.News.

The advocacy groups’ months-long campaign has included bike billboards that followed Google employees’ morning commute routes, light projections outside a developer’s conference, airplanes flying over an annual shareholders’ meeting, and a letter to Google CEO Sundar Pichai signed by 20 organizations. The campaign this month delivered a petition with more than 100,000 signatures, demanding the company remove its fake clinic search ads and map results.

The campaign comes as a 2015 California law regulating fake clinics faces an uncertain future. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide the constitutionality of requiring pregnancy centers to post a notice about how to access to free and low-cost abortions and other services through state programs.

It’s unknown how many pregnant people are misdirected by Google ads and searches to one of the several thousand fake clinics in the United States. But crisis pregnancy center operators regard Google searches and ads, and social media platforms like Facebook, as vital to reach their target audience of “abortion minded women.”

National conferences for fake clinics routinely supply instruction on digital marketing and Google ads. A session at a recent Heartbeat International conference in California, for example, included a case study on a Google campaign by a fake clinic called Choices Pregnancy Services. The Google campaign reportedly generated about 414 click-throughs and 61 calls and emails per month for the clinic. In another example, a fake clinic increased its contacts by nearly half by using search optimization, meaning using keywords such as “abortion” or “abortion clinic.”

As recently as February, the CEO of RealOptions, a chain of California fake clinics, told the San Jose Mercury News that it buys Google keywords for the terms “abortion” and “pregnancy” and “unplanned pregnancy.”

UltraViolet’s Roland said the organization is monitoring Google’s response and planning their next steps.

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Topics and Tags:

Anti-Choice Extremists, Google

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