Addicts seeking treatment for substance abuse are falling prey to bogus medical clinics advertising on Google Inc’s business directory system. The Mountain View-based tech behemoth appears reluctant to address the issue.
According to research done on online advertising in the substance treatment industry, investigators who chose to remain anonymous for personal reasons say that most Google search result listings are just front organizations. They intend to deceive people desperate for help and with the insurance to pay for it.
In terms of Google search advertisements, the substance abuse treatment industry – alcohol and drug detox facilities – are regulated by standards set by Google, a certification body called LegitScript and the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers. This is because addiction can have dire health consequences, especially when complicated by misinformation.
Available information suggests that search results pages related to substance abuse are awash with phony listings originating from lead-generation and marketing companies making spirited efforts to lure unsuspecting clients for addiction treatment. Their ultimate goal is to direct potential clients to their affiliated facilities in the local area.
Fakers are winning
It appears the fake treatment centers are gaining a foothold on Google as they outnumber the authentic businesses on the top-most search result listings. This greatly affects legitimate organizations economically and threatens to compromise the welfare of vulnerable patients.
This is not a new problem for the tech heavyweight. Last year, The Wall Street Journal published that millions of fake listings littered Google Maps, and the problem could be traced back to at least 2007.
Joe Youngblood, a digital marketer who runs an SEO firm based in Texas, said that Google, the Silicon Valley web services company has never really taken local search seriously.
Investigators have established huge discrepancies between Google Map listings and reality. They also claim that some organizations are violating the tech giant’s advertising policies.
Follow the money
Lead generation is a lucrative business in the substance abuse treatment industry where clients looking for help can be willing to part tens of thousands of dollars throughout treatment. Therefore, there is a huge financial incentive to game the Alphabet Inc-owned Google.
Peter Thomas, the National Association Addiction Treatment Providers’ quality assurance director, expressed his disapproval for those who exploit vulnerable people the personal enrichment purposes. He went to further state that such practices do not only undermine the recovery of those directly affected but also erodes the much-needed public confidence in the sector.
We are making an effort
A Google spokesperson disclosed to The Register, that the web giant receives 20 million content contributions daily, and in 2019 it eliminated more than 4 million bogus business profiles due to its machine learning models and automated detection systems. The search engine also said it removed over 258,000 user-reported business profiles and disabled above 475,000 user accounts. However, it could not provide details about the rate at which bogus accounts are being created so that a more comprehensive analysis could be done to determine whether progress is being made.