Google ads promote firms charging extra for services

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Google says it will investigate examples of adverts leading search results for companies offering to carry out a service for a higher fee than the official channels.

For example, a search for the term “driving licence application” in the UK led to a firm charging £49 ($64) for a change of address.

As a paid ad, it was the first search result that appeared.

The government does not charge to amend this detail on a current licence.

Other examples included searches for marriage certificates and Chinese visa documentation.

The driving licence company states on its website that it is not affiliated to the government or the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA).

It describes its charges as a combination of a service fee and VAT.

Another promoted link to a firm charging £7.50 to pay the Dartford Crossing toll on the M25 motorway in London – which actually costs £2.50 – was removed after the BBC showed it to Google.

The top ad for the term “visa for China” advertises a Chinese visa for tourists with a UK passport starting at £265 plus a £140 consular fee – while costs start at £151 at the Chinese Embassy.

The Embassy is currently the seventh search result on the page.

If you search on Google for “marriage certificate”, the first result is an ad for a firm which charges £40 for a replacement marriage certificate.

The certificate costs £11 when ordered direct from the government.

These firms are not doing anything that is against the law.

Following a BBC investigation in October 2018, Google removed a number of ads offering Esta services (US travel documentation) at more than five times the price charged by the US government itself.

“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.

Google has a page for reporting ads. All reports are reviewed by humans rather than algorithms, he added.

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