Google lets rehab facilities advertise again after extended ban

3 Aug 2018

Image: Iryna Imago/Shutterstock

Google is allowing addiction treatment centres to advertise again after launching a rigorous vetting system.

Google will once again show ads for addiction treatment facilities close to a year after removing them in the US. The ban went global in January of this year.

The company had originally banned these ads in the wake of reports that some referral centres surfacing at the top of searches were less than reliable.

The dodgy referral centres in question would typically earn money for sending addicts to prohibitively expensive ‘addiction centres’. These facilities rarely provided any concrete help with people’s issues at all.

Google teams up with medical verification company

Google made the decision to enforce a blanket ban on addiction-related ad words. During the time that followed, the company teamed up with LegitScript, a company based in Portland, Oregon.

LegitScript specialises in verifying medical businesses online. It uses a checklist to make sure the businesses are adequately licensed and compliant with legal requirements.

Items required for verification include: an accurately registered domain name, accessible data about the qualifications of treatment professionals and proof of insurance required to operate a treatment service or facility.

Only businesses approved by LegitScript are allowed to run ads against Google user queries around addiction.

According to LegitScript, Google originally only wanted to open advertising privileges to just 30 facilities. The volume of applications meant this number had to be expanded to 100.

Scammers exploiting Google

A report from The Verge written in September 2017 detailed how the ad programme previously opened up vulnerable addicts to financially exploitative scams.

The experience of one woman, Leasha Ali, was detailed: “Most of her treatment at the understaffed facility consisted of large therapy groups, and personnel were unprepared to deal with her serious medical issues.

“Having started out looking for help with her alcoholism, she ended up getting a lesson on the complex, opaque web of treatment centres and marketing operations that use the internet and high-pressure telemarketing techniques to profit off a booming market: addicts in America.”

Grant McClernon, director of marketing strategy and operations at Recovery Centers of America, told TechCrunch what Google was trying to remedy by enforcing the ban. “What they were trying to get rid of were these ‘lead aggregators’ that were posing as treatment centres but were basically selling the patients.

“They wanted people who were operating under state scrutiny, providing real treatment.”

Google and LegitScript will perform annual checks on approved advertisers. This will ensure they are still up to scratch in terms of compliance and legal requirements. The list of approved facilities is likely to grow.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects