Amazon, Asos, Nike and Ted Baker have all been found to be advertising on websites promoting COVID-19 misinformation and false claims about vaccines.
According to new research conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, first reported by The Observer, dozens of the world’s leading retailers and brands have been found to have financial ties to sites pushing false and potentially dangerous information about the virus.
Adverts for Amazon Pharmacy, the retailer’s pharmaceuticals venture based in the US, were found on more than 30 of the misinformation websites, accounting for one per cent of the 42,000 adverts recorded during the study.
Other leading companies including Nike, Honda, Walgreens, Ebay, Ted Baker, Asos and Sotheby’s were also recorded to be advertising on multiple websites flagged as spreading false information, including claims the pandemic was secretly engineered by powerful people and the vaccine has caused thousands of deaths.
It is understood that the majority of these brands use a technique called real-time bidding, a process which relies on algorithms to pair available advertising space with users with related browsing histories.
While this enables retailers to put out personalised and uniquely targeted adverts, it also gives them much less oversight into where their adverts are being posted.
This system has been called “incredibly opaque” by software giant Mozilla’s Reagan MacDonald, who added: “It’s almost like we’re not supposed to look under the hood. Because if you do, you find this mess.
“What I really hope is that this will be a sort of last straw for the brands.”
In response to the study, a Ted Baker spokesperson said: “The location of these adverts is driven by the Google Display Network. We can confirm that we have worked with Google to resolve this issue and that our adverts will not appear on these specific sites in the future.”
Asos says it has now added the sites to its banned list, adding that the current tools available will “not always flag some smaller or newer sites.”
It added: “Where this happens, whenever an issue is brought to our attention, we take immediate action to ensure our ads are removed as we have done in this case.”