Microsoft Removed 3 Billion Bad Ads in 2021

Jason McMannis
May 6, 2022
Digital Security

Scammers, fake celebrities, account take overs; all are real threats the digital ad space faced last year. Microsoft Ads gave us a glimpse into just how large these threats loomed within their ad platform.

The Numbers 

Microsoft Ads revealed, in their safety year in review, that they had removed roughly 3 billion (with a ‘B’!) ads from their platform last year. An amount that nearly doubled the 2020 total of about 1.6 billion. In addition to the sheer volume of bad ads were the 270,000 suspended accounts (down from 300,000 in 2020), 400,000 banned websites (way up from 270,000 in 2020), and they had to manage 70,000 customer complaints regarding ads that were in violation of their standards and regulations (of which, 60% proved to be legitimate).  Clearly this evolving threat is becoming a larger and larger concern. 

What Kind of Scams are Microsoft Seeing? 

Among the worst of offenders are fake celebrity backed financial schemes. These schemes give the promise of lucrative investment strategies with the so-called “backing” of a celebrity figure. (As seen below) These scams have become so prevalent in Microsoft’s landscape that they have put protocols in place to try and eliminate these ads in real-time. Last year that protocol affectively banned 10,000 accounts, removing over 200,000 of these types of fraudulent ads. 

An emerging threat has become sophisticated account takeovers. Hackers use techniques to bypass multi-factor authentication to gain access to functioning ad accounts. The most notable hacker group was caught in December. The group called ‘Nickel’ was believed to be using the information it collected for intelligence gathering from government agencies, think tanks, universities and human rights organizations. To fight this, Microsoft is implementing behavior signal tracking to combat these threats. Like how your credit card company monitors your spending habits to identify unusual spending on your account. They have also shared “Best Practices” with their community to help avoid these evolving attacks. 

Why We Care? 

So why does this all matter? Well, Search Marketing falls apart when people lose trust in the ads they see on search engines. When scams and low-quality ads water down the results of a search query, it makes customers hesitant to trust any search ads at all. Fortunately, Microsoft’s implemented strategies seem to be working, but scammers will continue to find new ways to penetrate our world.  This is a reality that is not soon going away. It’s important to stay wary and mindful of your security practices.