Oops, Google swears they don’t show gun ads, but they’ve shown millions

When it comes to firearm advertising, there’s a Google theory (feel free to talk about it), and then there’s a (much less well-known) practice.

Despite pledging not to run ads for firearms for 20 years through its ad platforms, Google has already made a lot of money in recent years by running these types of ads in the tens of millions. This was revealed by a thorough investigation published in ProPublicaOver 120 million advertisements from arms manufacturers were analyzed between March 9 and June 6, 2022.

The investigation looks even more resounding as it unfolds as the United States mourns the victims of two recent tragic murders at a New York grocery store and an elementary school in Texas. Sometimes these ads go unnoticed by the publishers of websites using Google’s advertising tools. For example, the investigation points to advertisements for weapons displayed on the pages of a site dedicated to children’s games, in the middle of the stages of making a vegetarian dish or on the sidelines of an article about teenage drama from a portal intended for parents. .

Prohibitions that are easy to circumvent

To conduct the survey, digital strategy and analytics platforms such as AdBeat and LikeWeb were used. They reveal ad placements by tracking the display of campaigns. ProPublica I contacted some of the sites where advertisements for firearms appeared, and most of their representatives were surprised by how publicly they pledged to reject such advertisements. This is for example a case Mac rumors or Play Buzz who indicated that they wanted to consider this dysfunction.

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If Google Ads appears to be overseeing and enforcing the ban on firearm advertising, this is clearly not the case for Google’s ad auction platform on which third parties bid in real time. On this platform, split-second tracking and surveillance campaigns will be more lenient and explain how gun manufacturers are still able to promote their guns, rifles, and ammunition so often online.

“We do not allow Google Ads to work with content related to firearms”explained to ProPublica Google spokesperson Michael Aciman, before acknowledging the following: “While we provide tools for publishers to decide if they want to accept third-party gun ads, we do not prevent sites from displaying these types of ads if they choose to do so.” In other words, it is entirely possible to promote weapons via Google platforms, even if the company has been communicating for a long time about its choice to ban such campaigns. As for the appearance of the latter on sites that explicitly reject them, this can be explained by the flaws of the campaign’s “retargeting” system.

Google will turn a blind eye

For Zach Edwards, founder of digital ad consulting firm Victory Medium, it’s clear that online marketers know how to circumvent Google’s ad protection measures in their favour, and have been using their flaws for years in order to place ads for weapons or of a sexual nature. “The truth is that Google makes money by looking elsewhere”, announces stingingly. In fact, the US market for online firearms advertising is estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars each year. As a reminder, there are more firearms than citizens circulating in Uncle Sam’s country.

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