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Google Cracks Down on Adult Site Ad Placement Through Partner Network

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google disabled on Tuesday its Programmable Search Engine (ProSE) marketing product from several adult sites, after an attention-grabbing report for an analytics company was sensationalized by two advertising industry trade publications.

According to Google’s VP of Global Ads Dan Taylor, ProSE is only a minuscule part of its powerful Search Partner Network, described as “a free search tool we offer to small websites so that they can present a search experience directly on their sites.”

“Ads may appear based on the user’s specific search query,” Taylor added. “They are not targeted to, or based on, the website they appear on. Websites that merely implement ProSE do not get any ad revenue from those ads.”

The scandal started when research company Adalytics, which offers optimization services to marketers, released a report claiming that high-profile company ads delivered by Google were appearing alongside controversial content.

The report was picked up by writers from major advertising industry publications Adweek and Ad Age, which headlined and editorially adjectivized their pieces in a sensational manner aimed at lumping the adult industry with illegal and dangerous content.

“Google Search Ads End Up on Pornographic and Sanctioned Sites” Adweek headlined their piece. Similarly, Ad Age went with “Google Served Brand Search Ads Through Porn Sites and Other Problematic Partners, Adalytics Finds.”

Adweek: Adult Sites Are ‘Undesirable,’ ‘Unsavory’

Adweek’s Catherine Perloff led her piece with “When Apple, Goldman Sachs and other large brands bought Google search ads over the last year, these ads not only appeared across search queries like ‘best credit cards,’ but also on more unsavory sites, according to research from ad-tech research outfit Adalytics.”

Perloff lumped websites which featured “copyrighted” — by which she most likely meant presumably pirated — and “pornographic content, as well as sites for Iranian and Russian corporations sanctioned by the U.S. government.”

The findings, Perloff claimed, “are spurring marketers to reassess their Google Search and Performance Max (Pmax) spend.”

Referring to Google’s network as part of a “convoluted programmatic ecosystem,” Perloff continued her stigmatization of the adult industry calling its sites “undesirable environments for advertisers” and “unsavory websites.”

Perloff explained that Google’s policy “prohibit publishers from monetizing pornography, committing intellectual property offenses and having backing from an entity sanctioned by the U.S. government.”

According to Google’s official policy, the company does not allow into its ads ecosystem content that “includes graphic sexual text, image, audio, video, or games (e.g., sex acts such as genital, anal, and/or oral sex; masturbation; cartoon porn or hentai; graphic nudity); or contains non-consensual sexual themes, whether simulated or real (e.g., rape, incest, bestiality, necrophilia, snuff, lolita or teen-themed pornography, underage dating).”

According to Adweek, the Adalytics’ report “found more than 36,000 websites in the Google Search Partner Network eligible for advertising, 390 of which are pornographic and four of which are websites belonging to entities sanctioned by the U.S. government. Adalytics also found more than 2,200 domains in the Search Partner Network that seemed to violate copyright laws. The report found Adweek ads on an Italian porn site.”

Google replied to Adweek’s query by noting that Adalytics’ claims are “wildly exaggerated.”

After Adweek told Google that specific examples violated its terms of service, the company disabled ProSE on the adult websites.

Ad Age Lumps Porn, Government-Sanctioned Companies

Ad Age’s Jack Neff led his article by explaining that “Google’s huge but obscure network of search partners — used, perhaps unknowingly, by thousands of advertisers including such titans as Procter & Gamble Co., big banks and U.S. law enforcement and military recruitment advertisers — included at least until yesterday Iranian, Italian, Vietnamese and other porn sites and websites of companies subject to U.S. sanctions.”

Neff wrote that Adalytics’ report was prompted by a client who was “searching for why brand ads were appearing on Breitbart, another Google Search Partner, even though the controversial right-wing website was on the company’s exclusion lists.”

While the initial aim and the focus of the report was local and international politics — Adweek mentions ads placed on sanctioned Iranian and Russian non-adult companies — both trade publications decided to lead the story with the porn angle.

“By Monday evening, within 12 hours of when Google was contacted for comment by journalists,” Neff celebrated, “porn sites that had been serving Google ads and were brought to Google’s attention either had their Google search widgets removed or rendered inoperative.”

Neff also quoted marketers referring to the situation as “a cesspool” and lumping “sites that are non-brand-safe” with sites sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Asset Control.

“There’s reputational risk in being on porn sites,” one of the marketers concluded. “We all know that.”

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