Google's new tool to remove fake products from search results is an inefficient headache for users flagging violations, according to a brand protection group

By Hugh Langley

From knock-off Rolex watches to fake pharmaceuticals, Google indexes many websites that sell counterfeit products.

In June, the company finally began allowing users to request that sites hosting these fake goods be de-indexed from Google's search results – but Incopro, a brand-reputation consultancy, says Google's system is "extremely problematic" for brands.

To report fake goods that appear in Google search results, a brand must fill out a form and submit a URL for the page hosting the counterfeit product.

But brands can't submit an entire website for takedown, and therefore must send Google the URL of every individual counterfeit product.

"It's like trying to mow a football pitch using a pair of scissors," said Mike Sweeney, director of service delivery and senior legal counsel at Incopro. "It just doesn't stack up for trying to tackle this problem at scale."

Incopro, a brand protection software provider, is now putting pressure on Google to change its policy, hosting a webinar on Thursday in which it intends to lay out its findings in the shortcomings of Google's approach to combating counterfeits. 

Sweeney said that the counterfeit goods submission system means a brand could feasibly have to submit thousands of individual URLs in order to have those products de-indexed by Google. 

In research shared with Business Insider, Incopro said it discovered that a fake watch site, watchreplica.to, had 3,370 individual URLs indexed by Google, with just under 70% of its traffic coming from organic search, it claims.

Sweeney said Incopro still welcomed Google's new fake-fighting tool, calling it a "sense of leveling up" from what came before it.

"Typically you'd have to resort to sending takedown notices to the people operating the websites. And very often, the notices are either ignored or else are actioned only for the website to appear somewhere else on the internet where the infringement cycle begins all over again," he said.

But the new system doesn't go far enough, Incopro says, and creates a potential headache for brands trying to swat down counterfeit products.

"This new functionality is very limited in that it anticipates brands or their appointed agents notifying Google of their concerns on an individual URL-by-URL basis, and that's extremely problematic," said Sweeney.

A Google spokesperson told Business Insider that the URL-based request system was by design and said that a full-site removal could limit access to legitimate goods. They added that Google has developed ways limit the visibility of websites that are consistently found to be selling counterfeit goods.

"Demotion of websites which are unlawful and which serve no legitimate purpose is not an effective solution," said Sweeney. "These are websites which serve no legitimate purpose, which often fund serious, criminal activity and which are self-evidently unlawful.  Still, Google will not remove them."

Users also need to create a Google account in order to submit the request, which Incopro is also calling out as a problematic element of Google's takedown system.

In a report last year, Incopro found that for certain searches, up to 60% of first-page Google results were directing users to websites selling counterfeit products.