Daniel Walker

Google says it's working to improve as it's found to be hosting more ads that are ripping off New Zealanders in breach of its own policy.

Kiwis making their first steps in the confusing process of applying for a US travel visa also have to wade through a sea of ads on Google offering the service for a marked-up price.

One of the sites charges US$99 ($156) for an ESTA application, something that costs just US$14 ($22) from the official US Government website.

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It's something the US Embassy warned about in June last year.

Tech commentator Paul Brislen said even he's fallen for it, expecting that clicking the official-looking first result will take him where he wants to go.

Some of the offending ads on on Google. Photo / screenshot
Some of the offending ads on on Google. Photo / screenshot

"Up pops a website, you put in your details, and only later discover you've paid a lot more money than you should have done."

These ads breach Google's own advertising policy which prohibits "charging for products or services where the primary offering is available from a government or public source for free or at a lower price".

It comes a day after Newstalk ZB inquiries resulted in the takedown of an ad for a site which simply marked up the price of requesting a birth certificate.


Google said about that case, its systems work correctly the vast majority of the time and it took down 2.3 billion bad ads last year.

"In this case they didn't, and we've taken action to address it," a spokesperson said in a statement.

"We know there is always more work to do and we are working to improve our processes."

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Meanwhile the inquiries may have saved thousands of taxpayer dollars.

Internal Affairs was grappling with how to prevent Kiwis using the birth certificate reseller appeared above the official site in Google search results.

It was preparing to fight fire with fire, allocating $5000 for Google ads to make sure the Internal Affairs site appeared first in the list.

But Internal Affairs says it's reconsidering now that Google's taken down the dodgy ad.

"As the third-party site ads have now been removed, we are reviewing the best way forward with the campaign to maximise benefit for our customers," an Internal Affairs spokesperson said in a statement.