People have reported seeing ads for coronavirus related goods (masks, sanitizers, and gloves) almost a month after Google vowed not to serve ads for these types of product. Last week, the company claimed to have removed “millions of ads.” So why are users still receiving them?
Google Can’t Keep Up With The Opportunists
Peter Kafka, host of the podcast “Recode Media,” says it’s because Google can’t keep up with how quickly opportunistic companies are pumping out the ads. He said, “[Google’s] ad ops aren’t set up to deal with an influx of bad actors trying to abuse it…this sounds familiar it’s because every big publishing platform has a version of that problem.” He continued, “Google will catch up to this ad and ban it, but mask sellers will respond with new ads. They have lots of incentive to game the system.”
Why Is It Problematic to Run These Ads?
Google has been outspoken about the fact that their aim is to not aid in the spread of misinformation or predatory advertising surrounding the coronavirus. Both private and government health officials have been clear that masks aren’t actually very helpful in protection against COVID-19. They argue the wearing a mask tends to increase the times a person touches their face, which is how these germs make it into a person’s system.
There is a counter argument that has not been heard. It is that while masks are not a perfect preventative, they are helpful because they reduce the amount of microscopic virus droplets that can enter your system. Even if they do not eliminate all disease droplets, masks are better than no masks.
The notion that the only people who really should be wearing masks are medical professionals and those who are already infected, to avoid coughing and breathing on others makes the point that masks have a preventative value.
This makes Google’s job of culling out misinformed or misleading, profiteering ads connected to the coronavirus very tricky. Profiteering is bad and it’s something Google and others should be removing. But standing against the use of masks, might be just as bad.
Senators Attack Google for Task-Force Failure
Google has set up a task force that specifically searches for and deletes ads that mention the words “coronavirus” or “COVID-19.” Trying to take down the ads is like playing a round-the-clock game of Whack-A-Mole. Still a Google representative said, “We’re committed to protecting users and surfacing helpful, authoritative information as the coronavirus situation continues to evolve.”
Two well meaning senators, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner and Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal, requested the Federal Trade Commission threaten punitive action against Google if ads for hand sanitizer or masks continue to pop up on users screens.
The senators said, “Google has made repeated representations to consumers that its policies prohibit ads for products such as protective masks. Yet the company appears not to be taking even rudimentary steps to enforce that policy.”