COVID-19 conspiracy sites are getting millions in ad revenue from Google and Amazon, according to a new report

Websites that spread false information and conspiracy theories about COVID-19 could make millions in ad revenue this year, according to a new study. The bulk of the ad revenue comes from Google's ad platform, along with other tech companies including Amazon and OpenX.

  • Global Disinformation Index, a UK-based research group, identified 480 English language websites that they say regularly publish COVID-19 misinformation and analyzed their ad revenue in the first half of 2020.
  • Google has pledged to remove ads from sites that breach its policies on misinformation, but GDI's report says there are hundreds of misinformation sites still making ad revenue.
  • Google pushed back on the study, arguing that GDI's ad revenue calculations are not "transparent or realistic." Google also demonitized five sites that were highlighted in the report after it was published.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories .

Google and Amazon are selling ad space on websites that spread COVID-19 conspiracy theories and their ad platforms, along with other tech companies, could channel millions of dollars into those sites this year, according to an estimate published in a new report.

The Global Disinformation Index, a UK-based research group, released a report Wednesday that analyzed ad revenue on 480 websites that frequently publish COVID-19 disinformation or conspiracy theories, Bloomberg first reported .

The report says that, of the 480 sites it analyzed, Google's ad platform served roughly 75% of the ads displayed. Amazon and OpenX each accounted for roughly 10% of the ads. GDI estimated that the ads could amount to $25 million in revenue based on how many page views each site received.

After the report was published, Google blocked ads from five sites that were identified by GDI. But a Google spokesperson pushed back on GDI's broader findings, arguing that its methodology isn't transparent and questioning the $25 million estimate.

"This report is flawed in that it neither defines what should be considered disinformation nor are its revenue calculations transparent or realistic," the Google spokesperson said, noting that ad revenue is not consistent for all ads across Google's platform but rather depends on how high advertisers are willing to bid for specific ad space.

In one instance, Google ran an ad from the British Medical Association a trade union for doctors on a pseudoscience site called GlobalResearch.ca next to a headline that read, "Compulsory Vaccination That Genetically Alters the Human Body ... No Longer a 'Human Being'?"

GDI also identified ads for brands including Wayfair, Bloomberg, Canon, and L'Oreal that appeared next to stories touting COVID-19 conspiracies.

Google has already committed to shutting down ad revenue on sites that violate its policies, including those that spread COVID-19 disinformation. The company says it has also banned most ads that mention COVID-19, prioritized reliable information in search and YouTube, and committed $6.5 million to fact-checking efforts.

But GDI is pushing for even more strict enforcement.

"Disinformation about COVID-19 has real-world harms," the report's authors wrote, adding that since it only analyzed English language sites, "these estimates are likely to be the tip of the iceberg."

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