Digital currencies

Google to ban cryptocurrency, initial coin offering ads

The internet search giant’s move followed efforts by European, US and Chinese regulators to curb fraud related to cryptocurrencies

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 3:38pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 14 March, 2018, 3:38pm

Google will ban online advertisements promoting cryptocurrencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) starting in June, part of a broader crackdown on the marketing of a new breed of high-risk financial products.

The internet search giant, a subsidiary of multinational conglomerate Alphabet, announced the decision on Wednesday in an update to its policy, which said it will begin to block ads for “cryptocurrencies and related content”.

Facebook, Google’s primary rival for advertising dollars, took a similar step in January, leaving the two largest web advertisement sellers out of reach of the nascent digital currency sector.

Bitcoin, the largest cryptocurrency by market value, pared an advance of about 2 per cent after Google’s announcement, trading little changed at US$9,099 as of 1:04pm in Hong Kong. Rival coins Ripple and Ether also pared gains.

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Digital currencies are coming under increasing pressure from regulators worldwide. European and US watchdogs have ramped up their efforts to curb fraud related to virtual currencies, and some of America’s biggest banks recently banned their customers from buying bitcoin and other tokens using their credit cards.

Facebook had banned all advertisements that promote cryptocurrencies to prevent advertisers from marketing “financial products and services frequently associated with misleading or deceptive promotional practices”. The move shines a spotlight on the US social media giant as part of a broader debate about the role of social media in disseminating news and the fine line between vetting and censorship.

In China, paid advertisements and sponsored posts on cryptocurrencies have not appeared in major social networks and search engines following a ban on ICOs implemented last year by the country’s central bank.

Google said it will also restrict advertisements for financial products including binary options, a risky derivative with an all-or-nothing pay-off.

At present, Google queries for terms like “binary options” and “buy bitcoin” produce four advertisements at the top of the results.

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Some aggressive businesses, however, found a loophole: purposely misspelling words like “bitcoin” in their advertisements.

A Google spokeswoman said the company’s policies will try to anticipate workarounds like that.

The company’s updated policy came with the release of its annual “bad ads” report, a review of the number of malicious, deceptive and controversial advertisements that Google scrubs from its massive search, display and video network.

Last year, Google said it removed more than 3.2 billion advertisements from the web. That was up from 1.7 billion in 2016.

Google pulled 79 million advertisements last year for luring online clickers to websites with malware. It is also accelerating a push against misleading content.

The company suspended 7,000 customer accounts for advertisements that impersonated a news article – what it calls “tabloid cloaking” – and blocked more than 12,000 websites for copying information from other publications.

It is unlikely that the 3.2 billion advertisements pulled last year, nor the coming cryptocurrency ban, will have a serious impact on Google’s sales. Last year, Google generated US$95.4 billion in advertising revenue, up 20 per cent from 2016.