Google’s Non-Compliance With Gun Ad Policy Hurts Publishers & Audiences

This month, Google was found to be non compliant with its own advertising policy banning firearms and dangerous product across the internet. The tech giants failure to identify and block weapons ads puts website owners and their online audiences at risk. 

Google’s official policy claims it doesn’t permit gun ads – no firearms, even for sport. The company also bans ads for ammunition, firearms accessories, and knives meant for combat.  The tech giant which has long boasted that it doesn’t accept ads for firearms as a reflection of its values and culture, has been found to be in violation of its own anti-gun policy.  According to recent reporting, Google serves over 100 million gun-related ads annually. These ads violate publishers’ ad policies, values, and mission to their audiences, and many publishers have expressed their dismay over these ads being served against their will.

In recent months, we’ve seen one breaking news story after another about incidents of gun-related violence in the US. The prospect of keeping ads for guns and other weapons off the page might seem straightforward to many publishers. Not only are ads like those banned by publishers across a wide spread of content verticals, Google also bans them

Lax Policy Enforcement Enables Gun Ads to Serve Across Global Audiences 

Between March 9 and June 6, Google services delivered millions of ads from firearm makers and sellers to various publishers whose own policies don’t allow such ads. During that time frame, deadly mass shootings occurred across the nation. The publishers affected were regional and international media sources, lifestyle sites, family-related sites, and reference sites. 

“Google is not upholding its own policy on gun ads. That leaves publishers accountable to face their audiences and try to recover lost trust, goodwill, and loyalty. Publishers truly provide a needed service to their audiences,” says GeoEdge CEO Amnon Siev. “Providing that service, being reliable and trustworthy, strengthens relationships with audiences. Ads with aggressive messages or relating to violence have no place in that relationship.”

The problem lies in the total disregard for Google’s own policies regarding ads for guns,  weapons and tactical gear.  There are specific rules for Google Ads – Google’s ad network and owned and operated properties – and other rules for third-party ad platforms (exchanges and the like) that it partners with. The rules for the latter are more lax, and provide less oversight in circumstances such as retargeting campaigns.

Preventing Inappropriate & Unwanted Advertising 

Google Ads bans ads for weapons and says it doesn’t run ads on firearms-related content- However, its policy also leaves the door open for sites that allow weapons ads. Firearms companies use Google products to help run their campaigns, and they can retarget a user all around the web after visiting a gun-related site. Publishers need to explicitly opt-out of gun ads if they don’t want those retargeted ads to appear on their sites.

We must note that even when publishers opt-out of gun ads, inappropriate ads can and do still make their way past Google’s ad quality measures. Ads for adult products and services get through, too. This cultural moment may feel unprecedented, but this ad phenomenon is not. ProPublica cited the case of publishers getting ammunition ads through AdSense – some of them could not remove from the site – following a mass shooting in 2019. And Google was recently found to have served ads for alcohol, high-risk financial products, and adult products to kids in the UK. 

Maintaining A Quality Ad Experience

To the user, the publisher is to credit or blame for any and all content on the page, including ad content. Apologizing for unwelcome ad content after the fact won’t erase the user’s shock in that moment – and publishers can’t expect users to understand the complexity of the ad ecosystem. If their partners don’t provide sufficient protections against ads for weapons, or any other unsuitable ads, they will need to implement ad quality tools to seal any ad quality gaps on their partners’ platforms.

“Because of the nature of the ad ecosystem, players along the supply chain – even unintentionally – make decisions that can undermine the publisher’s ad standards,” Siev says. “GeoEdge believes in empowering publishers to customize their ad experiences, to ensure safe engaging digital experiences for their audiences. Ads with violent imagery and messaging are a clear no, and blocking them is a long-established feature of our product.”

Most other ad platforms don’t face the public directly, as Google does, but their ability and willingness to uphold ad policies affect people in the same ways as Google. Publishers need additional protection for their inventory. GeoEdge provides that partnership for upholding ad quality, stopping inappropriate ads from ever reaching the page, and offering the ability to review all ads on the site. 

Alisha is a Technology Writer and Marketing Manager at GeoEdge. Her writing focuses on current events in the AdTech ecosystem and cyberattacks served through the digital advertising supply chain. You can find Alisha on LinkedIn to discuss brand building and happenings in AdTech.

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