Update (8/4/21): Following the publication of this report, a Google spokesperson confirmed to Media Matters that the company has since removed the ads for the counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards:
“These offers violated our policies and we immediately removed them. Early in 2020, we implemented a sensitive event policy for Covid-19, blocking most offers referencing the virus, to protect people from bad actors attempting to capitalize on it. As an additional layer of protection, we also do not show Shopping offers on the vast majority of Search results related to Covid-19. We continue to actively track new trends and patterns of abuse, adapting our enforcement in real-time to stop fraudulent behavior.”
Google is profiting off ads for counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination cards, even though the product violates the company’s own advertising policies prohibiting content that exploits a public health emergency.
Google Shopping lists a counterfeit COVID-19 vaccination card as the first sponsored result under the search terms “blank vaccination card,” “blank cdc card,” “cdc card,” and “vaccination card.” The “sponsored” label on the section indicates that Google is “compensated for clicks” on the ads and that “advertiser payment to Google may also influence how items are ranked and grouped” in results.
The product appears to carry the logos of the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The product title says, “Fill the information yourself.” According to the website, all of the most recent transactions come from buyers in the United States. The lowest price for the counterfeit cards is $0.99 for a set of 20.
Google Shopping’s advertisement information “prohibits any content that seeks to capitalize on the pandemic, or lacks reasonable sensitivity towards this global health crisis.” Additionally, buying or selling fake COVID-19 vaccination cards carrying an official government agency seal is a crime. Yet these fake vaccination cards are listed as the first sponsored result under the aforementioned four searches by Google.
At a time when COVID-19 cases are beginning to rise again in the U.S. because of new variants and persistent vaccine hesitancy, the existence of easily accessible counterfeit vaccination cards for sale is uniquely dangerous and should not be promoted for profit by major tech companies like Google.