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During a debate called ‘Follow the Money: Can The Business of Ad-Funded Piracy Be Throttled?’ in London last night, Google’s UK policy manager stated that Pirate Site Blocking Just Leads To a Game of Whack-a-Mole, and Google doesn't believe in it.
“It’s not Google’s job to go around the web to declare whether sites are legal or illegal, but if Coca-Cola comes to us and says here’s a list of 500 dynamic sites and we don’t want you to place ads on those, that’s a slightly different thing. It’s almost a marketing thing for the brand,” he said.
Why yes, it's the classic Google-move. They just asked you to do their job for them. Dear Brands, I have an easier solution than making a list of 500 sites you hand over to Google; never place any online ads with Google ad networks. All done, and you didn't have to play whack-a-mole finding 500 pirate sites that would be detrimental to your brand! So easy!
Sure, look at it one way, and Google are saying that they don't police the web. But remember, this is the company that Banned Adland not once, not twice, but three times from Google Adsense. What they're really saying is that their ad-network approval system is arbitrary and random, and they have no idea what they're doing. They know exactly how to block sites, and did for some time in China, or at least until Chinese hackers breeched Google security and ticked Google off, but they don't want to do this even with sites deemed illegal. That a quick search of "Call me Maybe" brings up ten random mp3 sites before iTunes or Amazon, has nothing to do with the fact that said pirate mp3 sites have google banners on them. Nope.
Still, Google is too big to police itself, and I mean this in relation to search, not Adsense and Doubleclick. If Google were to accept all DMCA requests sent to them regarding sites that appear in search results, for example, the search engine would soon be useless. Google itself would be an illegal site, as it carries countless links straight to Torrents, Images, MP3 sites and Google-owned Youtube famously shows thousands of pirated movies in snippets and music, until someone lets them know. The fall down the slippery slope would kill Google as we know it.
When it comes to ad-serving, Google's Adsense is probably the most popular of the contextual ad networks out there, and unsurprisingly a recent USC study showed that Google is the number 2 network spotted on Pirate Sites. Much like Facebook's ads, that follow a users previous visits and interests, the Google ads are tailored not only to the sites keywords, but to your user interests as well.
Like the earlier news about Everyday sexism's successful push to make big brands pull their ads off Facebook where they were shown alongside anti-women hate speech, the simplest way for a brand to police itself away from Pirating sites, is to pull out of the Google Adsense network entirely.
“I know the complexities can be seen as something to hide behind. It is easier to tell whether something is pornography than whether something is licensed or not. The legal basis for declaring a whole site unlawful in the UK at least still only applies to a relatively small handful of websites.”
If it were easy to judge what pornography is, Adland wouldn't be banned, then unbanned, then banned again despite not showing anything more titillating than the cleavage-happy ads you see on the very same Adsense network.
David Lowery was also on the panel and he showed an example that really should give brand managers nightmares:
“In general, though, the online advertising world is pretty out of control,” said Lowery, who showed a still of a YouTube video for an online pharmacy selling Oxycontin, with a pre-roll ad for the Speed Stick deodorant – a brand belonging to the Colgate/Palmolive company. And then a video guide to drugs e-commerce site Silk Road with an ad for ZSL London Zoo.
We may not know which half of our advertising budget is wasted, but if we remove the chunk dedicated to Adsense/Doubleclick and seek out quality content providers that align with our brand instead of X numbers of eyeballs, we know we won't be sabotaging our own brands. Just a suggestion, dear media buyers.