Fake goods surface in up to 60% of Google product searches, study says

  • Google is among the search engines that show fake and possibly dangerous counterfeit goods in as many as 60% of their search results, putting consumers at risk, per a study by intellectual property and brand protection company Incopro. The firm is demanding that Google, Bing, Baidu and Yandex remove search results that it says harm consumers and undermine brands.
  • The potentially dangerous fake goods include car parts, pharmaceuticals, toys, appliances and safety equipment. Incopro found that six out of 10 Google searches for the antibiotic Bactrim pointed to websites that were likely to be operating unlawfully, while a third of search results for a “Comotomo teether” for babies showed possibly harmful products that misused the Comotomo trademark.​
  • Incopro is asking Google to change its policy on handling requests to remove search results that point to sellers of possibly fake goods. Facebook, Amazon and eBay are more responsive in removing products that infringe trademarks and copyrights, per Incopro. Google did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Dive Insight:

Incopro’s study highlights problems for brands and consumers and a potential legal quandary for Google, which is estimated to command about 93% of the search market worldwide. It also raises important issues as Google builds out its e-commerce platform, Google Shopping, as an online destination.

In response to Amazon’s growing importance in product searches, Google has ramped up its shopping section to point users to online merchants. Incopro’s research suggests that many of those merchants are selling fake or dangerous goods, which could diminish consumer trust in Google.

While Incopro praises Amazon for responding more promptly to infringement claims, the e-commerce giant has its own issues with policing its marketplace. Recent Wall Street Journal investigations found more than 4,000 unsafe products for sale on Amazon from third-party sellers, along with clothing made in unsafe factories shunned by other brands and retailers.

Counterfeiting and piracy are estimated to cost brands billions of dollars in lost revenue worldwide, while also hampering their efforts to generate brand awareness and customer loyalty. Incopro estimated that 3,000 consumers bought products from potentially harmful websites during its month-long study period, based on a sales conversion rate of 2.5%.

The biggest issue for Google is whether it wants to take more responsibility for product information that shows up in its search results. U.S. law makes a distinction between platforms that host content, like Facebook or Amazon, and search engines like Google that point to other sites. Facebook, Amazon and eBay can be sued for damages by owners of intellectual property for showing counterfeit products, but Google is mostly immune to those claims.

The search giant will remove materials that infringe copyrights, but won’t act on trademark claims unless a brand obtains a court order against an infringing site, according to Incopro, whose report shows its correspondence with Google’s legal team on the matter. The requirement for a court order means that brands need to go through an often lengthy and costly legal process to enforce their claims instead of asking Google directly for help, per Incopro.