Thursday, 13 March 2014

Google Copycat Websites Update

Graham Jones (Opposition Assistant Whip (Commons); Hyndburn, Labour)

Last weekend I was searching for a V14 form to return a tax disc, I did a search on Google and a copycat website came up offering services that cost money. What efforts are being made by the Government to work with the advertising agencies to try to deal with copycat websites that are ripping people off?

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 12 March 2014, c308)

Francis Maude (The Minister for the Cabinet Office and Paymaster General; Horsham, Conservative)

My colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and I had a meeting with Google and others last week to address exactly this issue. We are taking urgent steps, with Google and with the Advertising Standards Authority, to address it. It is a real concern, the hon. Gentleman is right to raise it and we are on the case.

Dear Mr Jones,

I am writing to update you following recent discussions between Google and the Government about ‘copycat websites’.
By working with the Government Digital Service and Transport for London we have recently been able to make some significant progress to better enforce our policies and protect users from misleading websites.

Google met with Francis Maude, Nick Hurd and Ed Vaizey at the end of February to discuss the issue and we are in continuing contact with the Government Digital Service to share information and make sure the public knows what to do if they encounter a site that they think is misleading.

Our rules on advertising Government-related services

For all advertisements on our search page, we have strict rules. They must not mislead or deceive in any way. We provide a number of methods for users and agencies to report advertisements that they believe are misleading or deceptive and we quickly take action in response.

For those websites that offer services related to Government or official services, such as sites advertising services related to passport services, we have further strict rules.

Our rules are designed to allow services that offer a legal and additional value. For example, although you can fill in your passport application form yourself at no cost, you can pay a small fee at your local Post Office and they will check that you have filled it out correctly. That would be an additional service which would not breach our rules on advertising. Instead, our rules are designed to tackle those who are simply mimicking official services with no added value. So, for example, if someone tried to charge a fee for an official document that was actually free, we would not allow them to advertise on our service.

Websites also have to set out exactly what it is they are selling, and make it clear that services are available from the official source at a lower cost or for free.

Our rules are clear: those who advertise on Google cannot promote services that provide little or no additional value to the user beyond the original or official online or automated application process. We take action against those sites that are offering no additional value by removing them from our ad results including copycat passport, tax return and London congestion charge websites.

Recent action on this issue

Both Government Digital Service and Transport for London have been giving us detailed information to clarify what is or isn’t currently provided by official Government services. This has helped us to identify which sites are genuinely offering added value services and which are not. We have already been able to remove misleading advertisements for sites for London congestion charge websites, and we will continue to work with the Government Digital Service to tackle any misleading advertisements for other Government services.

The Government Digital Service has also set up a help page at to offer guidance to members of the public on how to report any adverts they think are misleading. Reports such as this help us remove misleading adverts as quickly as possible so we encourage members of the public to let us know about any websites that concern them. Misleading websites can be reported directly to Google at

We are also aware that consumer groups like Which? have campaigned on this issue, so we are working with them to ensure their own communities are aware of the action taken so far and how to report misleading websites. A short Q+A on the issue can be found at:
If you would like to discuss this issue, or any other matter relating to Google, in more detail please do not hesitate to get in touch.
Yours sincerely,
Theo Bertram, Head of Policy, Google UK