According to industry experts, Google’s decision to ban cryptocurrency advertising on its platforms is poorly thought out and possibly unethical. But the tech giant is not alone: Facebook and Twitter have also instituted similar bans.
Google announced the ban in March: “Ads for the following will no longer be allowed to serve … Cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, cryptocurrency wallets, and cryptocurrency trading advice.”
So what is driving the decision? On the surface, the ban appears to be motivated by a desire to prevent fraudulent activity. As cryptocurrencies have experienced a surge in popularity, scammers use Google and Facebook to promote shady exchanges and ICOs to defraud customers. With nearly 80 percent of ICOs reported as fraudulent (according to a study by Statis Group), it makes sense to ban these types of advertisements.
The blanket ban means that legitimate cryptocurrency businesses which provide valuable services to their customers, will be unfairly affected. This leads to speculation that Google has different motives for the ban.
Both Google and Facebook have admitted to an interest in blockchain technology, which supports cryptocurrency.
Could it be that Google (and Facebook) are poised to introduce its own cryptocurrency in the near future?
Google has reportedly approached Vitalik Buterin, the founder of ethereum (the world’s second-most valuable cryptocurrency), in hopes of working with him to develop their own cryptocurrency.
A Google spokesperson declined to comment on specifics; however, Business Insider reported in March that Google was considering the technology. “Like many new technologies, we have individuals in various teams exploring potential use of blockchain, but it’s too early for us to speculate about any possible uses or plans,” the spokesperson said.
Both Google and Facebook are exploring blockchain technology; meantime, their bans on ads promoting anything related to digital currency are meeting with little success, as marketers find clever (and simple) ways to circumvent the bans, for example, using the abbreviation “c-currency” instead of cryptocurrency, or putting a zero instead of an ‘o’ as in bitc0in.
No matter what Google’s intentions are, Gareth Malna, attorney with the UK firm Burges Salmon, suggests that Google’s ban goes against its purpose as a search engine. He said, “[Google is] potentially overstepping its perceived role as gatekeeper to information.”