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Google Promises to Crack Down on Ads Offering Official Services at Extortionate Prices

By Shabana Arif on at

Following a BBC investigation, Google has promised to investigate instances of ads for overpriced services eclipsing the official channels that are much cheaper, and sometimes free of charge.

The search engine will frequently show ads at the top of its list of results, but the BBC discovered that this was also occurring when looking for official documentation – like marriage certificates and travel visas.

Examples from the 2018 investigation include companies touting Chinese tourist visas for UK passport holders priced at over £260 with a £140 consular fee tacked on. The Chinese Embassy offers the same for around £150, but you'll have to scroll down the page to find it.

Replacement marriage certificates ordered from the government cost as little as £11, but the first of the search results is an ad for a company charging £40 for the exact same thing.

While these services are marked as ads, it's not ideal to have to trawl through them all before you're able to find the official avenue for governmental services.

In the wake of the BBC's findings, Google weeded out ads for ESTA application services that cost five times the price offered by the actual US government.

"We have policies that prevent ads for paid products or services that are available from a government or public source for free or at a lower price, unless they offer a clear added value," said a Google spokesman.

If Google's efforts aren't enough for you, you can always contribute by reporting offending ads that will then be reviewed by a real live person.