Google’s crypto ad ban and FMA licensing push might not mean much

Ticket scalping and pirate sites have made a mockery of previous “crackdowns” – and still do. I hate to admit it but Kim Dotcom has a point.
"Blocksplain blogger" Richard MacManus says Google's move indicates "most of the ads are scammy."

UPDATE: Scroll to end of story for Google comment.

Google says that from June 2018, it will no longer server ads for “cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice).”

It’s a blanket ban. Not crypto sites that have earned convictions or those accused of misdeeds by regulators but the whole lot.

Local crypto-currency blogger Richard MacManus was quick to accuse Google of a diversionary tactic to avoid regulation. He suggests crypto companies protest by using a new web browser called Brave (which is built to block ad trackers and facilitate micropayments) and ditching Google’s Chrome.

Google says its aggregators and affiliates will no longer be able to serve ads for the following categories from June 2018:

• Contracts for Difference
• Rolling spot forex
• Financial spread betting
• Binary options and synonymous products

Google’s notification to advertisers gives no reason for the ban. Presumably, there have been issues with previous advertisers. These are all areas that can attract fringe players who prey on the gullible.

However, Google itself will still serve ads to those categories, in certain countries, providing the advertiser has been certified by Google. That process will require the advertiser to:

• be licensed by the relevant financial services authority in the country or countries they are targeting;

• ensure their ads and landing pages comply with all AdWords policies; and

• comply with relevant legal requirements, including those related to complex speculative financial products.

Must be licensed by FMA
In terms of the local situation, “Google allows ads promoting complex speculative financial products targeting New Zealand, as long as the advertiser is duly licensed by the Financial Markets Authority of New Zealand. Other local legal requirements must also be met, including leverage caps and risk warnings.”

Despite his taste for a blanket ban, Mr MacManus can see how an across-the-board prohibition is the most practical option for Google. “I think it means most of the ads are scammy, so it’s just easier,” he says.

Inconsistent approach
Last week, I questioned Google Australia-New Zealand about why ads for ticket scalping site Viagogo continued to display, despite the site failing to fully comply with Google’s terms and conditions, and a Commerce Commission warning to consumers not to engage with the site as it investigates 228 complaints about invalid tickets allegedly sold under false pretences (across the Tasman, the ACCC has filed a federal court case over 400 allegedly invalid tickets sold via the Swiss-based Viagogo).

I also noted Google continues to serve ads for sites that promise free, full-length versions of Hollywood movies that are still in theatres. Beyond the obvious problems with US and New Zealand copyright law, these ads are plainly in violation of Google’s Search Ad terms and conditions, which do not allow false representations or ads for copyright-infringing material.

Among other things, Kim Dotcom and his Megaupload co-defendants stand accused of making copyright-infringing content easily locatable (there was no search engine on Megaupload but the FBI alleges Mr Dotcom et al conspired with third-party sites to make infringing content findable; Mr Dotcom denies it). As part of his defence, Mr Dotcom has said Google and other services make infringing content discoverable. I’m now inclined to think he’s right (not that it will help his extradition case; two wrongs don’t make a right).

Inconsistent response
Trying to get a detailed response site from Google for questions for last week's story was like extracting blood from a stone. Days passed before minimalsit responses arrived. All I’ve been told is that the company has tightened its rule for ticket resellers (good but Viagogo is not following key elements). And I’ve been forwarded a link to Google’s Ad Words terms and conditions, which only confirms that the flood of pirate movie ads is indeed in violation of the company’s terms. A spokeswoman also said it would not comment on individual advertisers.

My question is if Google is willing to adopt a proactive, blanket ban on crypto ads and those for often dodgy financial services through its affiliates, and to require certification before ads can be served via Google.co.nz, then why can’t it take a similarly staunch approach to ticket scalping and free movie ads?

Or will its new terms and conditions for crypto and financial services prove as porous as those in other areas?

I don’t want to mindlessly bash Google. I have subscriptions to the commercial versions of Apps and Drive, as well as a Google Play membership. I think the company does many things well.

But I really want it to clarify its minimalist responses to NBR’s questions about dubious ads, and to make one of its policy experts available for an interview.

[UPDATE: A Google spokeswoman sent the following: "Google AdWords provides a platform for advertisers to reach potential customers. Advertisers are responsible for the goods and services they provide to customers. When we discover ads violating our policies we take immediate action. Users can also lodge complaints if they believe an advertiser breaches these policies and all complaints are investigated. Ads that violate our terms and conditions will be removed."

Again, that's just repeating Google's policy. I'm still keen to interview someone at Google about why Viagogo and movie pirate sites can flout that policy over and over.]

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