Google finally cleans up its Esta ads after eight years

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GB news 24 desk//

Google says it will stop ads for expensive unofficial Esta services appearing at the top of search results, eight years after the first complaints.

In 2010, the US started charging UK travellers to use the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (Esta).

Unofficial sites charging five times as much as the US government soon flooded the top of Google’s search results, despite breaking Google’s ad rules.

Now, after a BBC News investigation, Google says it is tackling the issue.

While unofficial Esta sites will still appear in the search results, they should no longer appear above the official website as advertisements when using the most common search terms.

Since it has used machine learning to address the issue, the ads do still show up for some search terms. Google says this will improve in time.

Why has this taken so long?

The official Esta website is run by the US Department for Homeland Security. It charges $14 (£10.70) for each Esta application.

But countless unofficial sites appeared at the top of Google search results by buying advertisements.

These unofficial sites charged more than $80 for an Esta application.

Google’s advertising policies explicitly forbid “charging for products or services where the primary offering is available from a government or public source for free or at a lower price”.

The company did take down ads that were manually reported by its users, but the same websites would soon reappear with a new web address.

It was a fruitless game of “whack a mole”.

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