Google has announced a major change to its advertising policy. Starting in June, it will ban any advertisements that promote cryptocurrencies and exchanges as well as initial coin offerings or ICOs. This announcement follows a similar one by Facebook made back in January banning cryptocurrency ads. So why have two Internet giants, raking in over $100 billion in combined ad revenue, decided to distance themselves from such lucrative adverts now?
Google continually deals with privacy issues, regulatory fines, and fake news, and does not want to risk alienating its core advertisers. Similarly, Facebook continues to be hammered with social media addiction and foreign election meddling accusations. Both entities seem to be slightly ahead of the curve by proactively nixing cryptocurrency ads before advertising regulators force their hands. Like gambling and pornography advertisers, cryptocurrency ICOs have joined the ranks of the undesirable, not in terms of revenue but in terms of social responsibility and overall lack of trust.
If you are anything like me, you find it hard to avoid the growing onslaught of algorithmically skewed news feeds, consumer scams, and trendy ICOs all over the Web. Unilever, a global brand for consumer goods, was also troubled by these growing trends and reportedly threatened to pull its advertising from digital platforms calling them a “swamp of fake news and extremism” as reported by USA Today. With a quarter of its ad spends on digital platforms and marketing budgets of almost $10 billion, Unilever got the attention of Google and Facebook who in 2017, accounted for 60% of Unilever’s digital ad spends. Unilever has just partnered with IBM for a blockchain pilot that will improve efficiency and transparency across the digital media supply chain to build trust with their advertisers.
Not all cryptocurrency offers are scams, but like all speculative trends, there are a healthy percentage of criminals looking to capitalize on users driven by greed, get rich quick schemes, and ignorance. Since Facebook banned these ads back in January, crypto advertisers have already begun their workarounds including deliberate misspellings of trademarks and search terms in an effort to outsmart Facebook’s algorithms. These workarounds, however, are short-lived and show a clear sign of desperation on the part of scammers.
I can understand why Google and Facebook would want to block and distant themselves from these lucrative, yet questionable financial ads as it will erode and deter their core legitimate advertisers. I also wonder if these bans will expand into other questionable ads for credit cards and low mortgage rates. With similar deceptions to lure consumers into bait and switch zero percent interest rates, predatory banking and credit industries are also long overdue for regulatory action.
Full Disclosure: I am an advisor to BlockSafe Technologies which has patented technology to effectively secure blockchains and cryptocurrencies. My company, Berkeley Varitronics Systems, uses Google’s advertising services for our wireless threat detection tools.