Imagine if an entire section of the phone book (remember those?) was dominated by fake companies and scam artists. You’d hope the phone book people would wise up and get rid of that section. That appears to be Microsoft’s way of thinking as it bans tech support ads from its Bing search results.
Earlier this week, Microsoft quietly announced the change to its Bing Ads policy, disallowing third-party ads for online tech support “because of serious quality issues that can impact end user safety.”
Which is a shorthand way of saying “we’ve seen to many people burned by ‘tech support’ scams and we’re not going to help these a-holes take advantage of people, even if they pay for ads.”
The “tech support” scam involves the victim being tricked into believing their computer needs fixing. This can happen in a number of ways: Phone calls from people claiming to be tech support staff; pop-up warnings alerting the user to a nonexistent virus or other problem with their computer; and paid ads on search engine results.
Victims are deceived into either turning over payment information to the scammer, or ceding remote control of their device to the scammer (sometimes both). The problem is particularly annoying to Microsoft, as the company’s name is frequently invoked by scammers pretending to represent Microsoft.
In 2015, Microsoft says it received some 150,000 complaints from consumers who were contacted in some form by bogus tech support services.
Last December, Washington state filed suit against online tech support company iYogi, alleging deceived consumers by falsely claiming affiliation with Microsoft, HP, Apple, and others. Customers then paid iYogi between $80 and $199 to upgrade their systems from Windows 7 to Windows 10, for example, despite the fact that Microsoft explicitly offers all home Windows users that upgrade for free. The company also allegedly used their remote access to computers to generate fake, flashing warnings about viruses, before charging upwards of $380 to have the “virus” repaired.
The Bing ban on tech support ads comes the same week that Google announced a ban on search engine ads for payday lenders.