Last week I recounted my travails in trying to get a Google ad for a herbal remedy for Aids removed. This evening I thought I'd check on whether I'd had any success. When I went onto the site where I'd seen the ad (timeslive.co.za), it wasn't there. So far so good. Then I did a google search for revivotea. This is what I found.
So, the ad is still there. But then I clicked on the third of the un-sponsored links. And I discovered that I am not the first person to try to get rid of this little piece of evil. It turns out that more than two years ago, one Patrick Linzer made a complaint to the South African Advertising Standards Authority about Revivotea's website. So what happened? Well the ASA ruled that the website was in contravention of its code.
The complaint was upheld. So how comes the site is still there? And how comes the ad is still there? Well, first, the company behind the site agreed to take the site that was the subject of the complaint down. The ruling includes the following: "the respondent confirmed that it has permanently closed the www.revivotea.co.za and www.herbalpharmacy.co.za websites".Well the first point is still true. The site http://retrovivotea.co.za no longer exists. The site that google now advertises is http://revivotea.com. But www.herbalpharmacy.co.za is still there.
So what does this all mean? Well first its pretty clear the ASA is not as effective in dealing with internet sites or ads as it is with mass media ads. Second, its notable how all Revivotea's distributors needed to do to evade sanction was to change the domain of their url. Third, on the positive side, all of this history is easily accessible via a google search. Fourth, all of this has not had any impact on Google's business - which has continued to earn fees from Revivotea's distributors and has not been a party to any of the reviews by the ASA. So we have a paradox. Google brought me to this history of previous complaints. Thank you Google. Also, as my contact at Google mailed me today, "We serve hundreds of millions of ads a day and the vast majority are very well targeted to the content and useful to users". But in the move from oligopolistic mass media to the global and open internet we loose some control - to stop lies and misrepresentations that can kill. I await the results of my complaints to Google and the ASA. Who, in the new global communications network, will take responsibility for vetting the messages we consume? Maybe we need to abandon the idea that any agency - a self-regulator, a Government, or a global corporation that commits itself to doing no evil - can act on our behalf. Maybe we have to imagine doing this for ourselves?