Google is coming for crypto scammers, Ponzi schemers, and ransomware thieves. Along with many, many other ad abusers.
On April 23, the tech giant announced a massive new advertiser identity verification campaign, built along the lines of the political ad verification policy it rolled out in 2018 after getting hammered for allowing foreign powers to influence the presidential election.
The campaign comes at a critical time for the cryptocurrency industry, which ranked last in trustworthiness among seven payment methods, according to an Economist Intelligence Unit report on the future of digital payments.
It’s part of a huge problem, according to blockchain intelligence firm Chainalysis’ 2020 State of Crypto Crime Report. Calling scams “the biggest threat in crypto crime,” it found that these frauds—most notably Ponzi schemes—made up the overwhelming majority of cryptocurrency-related crime, accounting for a whopping $8.6 billion in transactions.”
At the same time, tech giants and particularly their social media arms don’t have the best record when it comes to discerning between legitimate crypto channels and content providers. Google’s YouTube is a prime offender. Just two days earlier, Ripple and the international payments firm’s CEO, Brad Garlinghouse, sued the streaming video service for ignoring imposter giveaway scam ads using his name and likeness and the company’s logos. And, over Christmas, some two dozen legitimate crypto opinion and education channels were pulled without warning starting Dec. 23, and only reactivated after the holiday.
Google adds advertiser KYC
Essentially a “know your customer” requirement like those mandated for banks and regulated cryptocurrency exchanges, the advertiser identity verification campaign will begin to roll out this summer, said John Canfield, Google Ads’ director of product management, ads integrity, in an April 23 blog post.
Under the new requirements, “advertisers will be required to complete a verification program in order to buy ads on our network,” Canfield said. “Advertisers will need to submit personal identification, business incorporation documents or other information that proves who they are and the country in which they operate.”
This summer, Googlers will begin to see advertiser disclosure buttons on ads that will provide details including the advertisers name and country of origin. The program will initially roll out to U.S. advertisers.
Based on details of the program provided, it seems likely that cryptocurrency ads will be a priority. However, Google did not respond to a request for comment by publication time.
Google said that as part of “a phased rollout, certain advertisers may be selected to complete this verification program first. Those who meet one of the below example criteria may be prioritized as Google expands this requirement across our Ad network.”
Those examples included: “Promotion of informational, advisory, or educational content.” Examples include “promoting educational resources, research and statistics, free health or financial advice, charitable or social causes, etc.”
Another category was, “Promotion of content related to regulated industries.” Examples include “Gambling and games, financial products or services, healthcare products or services, etc.”
However, there’s a big, gaping loophole that could seriously impact the program’s ability to stop scam ads. Targeted advertisers will be given 30 days to produce the required documentation, and another 30 days to complete the program before their ads are pulled. That’s plenty of time to start a YouTube or Instagram channel or a website, con a few people, and get out to start all over again.