On behalf of the independent repair community I would like to say we understand the reason why Google took the necessary steps to take down third party repair ads, but Google must recognize the importance of finding a simple solution that prevents further online scams while still allowing third party repair companies to advertise to their customers. Shops across the country have been negatively impacted by these decisions. Google has an obligation to work with the independent repair community to find a solution.
A little history lesson on advertising
For centuries, business owners relied on word of mouth referrals to build their businesses. But in 1450 AD, a man by the procurious name of Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. The printing press revolutionized the way people read, the way people thought but also the way businesses advertised. By the 1700s customer referrals were no longer the only means of advertising a business; printed ads were being adopted at scale. Printing presses and old men sharing business contacts is cool, but our history lesson isn’t over yet. On October 23, 2000, Google changed the advertising world forever by officially launching its ad platform that would allow businesses to target specific keyword searches. For example, if you were a car repair shop you could simply have your website or phone number pop up when someone googled “car repair shop”. Businesses began directly targeting audiences ready to pay rather than attracting the broad masses. This was a radical change in the way businesses marketed to consumers. Thus from 2000 on, Google became a vital part of every company’s digital advertising strategy.
Today, between 80-90% of all online searches in the United States occur on the Google search engine. This means for every 100 people searching for terms such as “computer repair service near me”, 85 of those individuals are using Google to look for a service provider. These stats illustrate Google’s extreme power over the services that are shown to consumers looking for the most affordable and simple fixes.
In 2018, Google released a blog post stating that the company had decided to ban third party “tech support services.” Google’s response was a necessary step to prevent scammers from easily hacking and stealing private data from non-tech savvy individuals. So how exactly were they doing this? Scammers would create fake websites claiming to be windows support experts, they would then run google ads advertising their illegitimate services to consumers looking for virtual help with their PCs. Eventually the consumer would grant the scammer virtual access to their personal computer which is where these scammers just wrecked havoc. If you have remote access to an individual’s machine you can steal almost anything you want. So there was a problem and it needed to be addressed.
Google promised that they were trying to find a way to allow third party support services to advertise to the masses, but they updated their original blog post claiming that there really wasn’t any solution, meaning the only real solution for Google was to maintain the status quo of banning tech support related ads. Unfortunately, this meant that thousands of small businesses across the country would no longer have the ability to competitively offer their services to their community.
Even though Google claimed to only ban tech support services, their broad generalization of the tech support keywords magically seemed to include iPhone repair, cell phone repair, computer repair and many other keywords relating more so to the independent repair community. But to most of the repair community it felt like just another corporate attack on the consumer’s right to repair. If consumers were searching for iPhone Repair to fix their cell phone, but google didn’t display any ads, in some situations consumers might have been almost misled into thinking that there were no repair services available to them.
The Big Issue
Google bans the use of common keywords used by the independent repair community to target possible customers, thus resulting in many shops being forced to close their doors or lose large percentages of their revenue.
This isn’t the first time Google has run into problems with scammers utilizing their online search engine to facilitate illegal activity. In 2017, Google decided to take down ads targeting locksmiths due to an abnormal increase in scammers creating additional keys to people’s home and then robbing them at later dates.
So how did Google fix the locksmith situation?
Google released a verification program that allowed legitimate locksmiths to apply to become google verified businesses. In order to apply to become a Google verified locksmith you must first qualify for their verification criteria. Google manually verifies locksmiths based on their credentials and issued licenses when applicable.
Once verified the business listing will appear with a “Google Guaranteed” check mark underneath the business listing.
So how can Google Bans Third Party Repair Ads situation fix?
The most common sense solution for Google would be to partner with an industry trade association that routinely audits the integrity of its members. The solution I would propose would be to partner with CTIA’s WISE certification. The industry leading tech association is a part of the highly respected cellular telecommunications industry association. To be a part of the WISE certification mobile repair providers need to pass rigorous training and maintain certain criteria’s in order to maintain their certification. Many OEM manufacturers have expressed interest and excitement in the program. Google could easily partner with WISE to offer WISE certified stores the ability to advertise online.
The alternative to partnering with an industry trade association would be to manually review each repair shop. Google could simply only verify businesses with a physical store so that scammers would have a much harder time creating fake business listings and marketing their shady services.
As a repair shop owner, I was financially impacted by the decisions that Google made, however I will be the first to acknowledge that I too wish the best for customers around the globe. Something needed to be done to prevent scammers from simply social hacking into customer devices, but the current situation has only prevented some social hacking while permanently dissolving many locally owned electronic repair businesses across the US. Remember Google, in the words of Peter Parker, “with great power, comes great responsibility” do the right thing and help us create a solution that benefits all parties involved.