November 28, 2023

Google Served Brand Search Ads On Pornographic and Sanctioned Sites

Google Search Partners (GSP), a network of third-party sites, has been found to have instances of search ads being served on non-Google websites that media buyers probably didn’t expect.

The ads were identified by Adalytics while working with a major Fortune 500 brand. The marketers assumed the ads were “exclusively being served on the search engine page," but instead served on the GSP network.

The report -- Does a lack of transparency create brand safety concerns for search advertisers? -- points to instances of Google search ads served on news websites of companies located in countries such as Iran and Russia, which may be under sanctions imposed by the U.S. government. The ads have also appeared on pornography websites, and sites hosting large amounts of pirated content.

Adalytics, which uses publicly available information to offer an advertising quality and transparency platform, published the report.

Ruben Schreurs, chief strategy officer at Ebiquity, a media analysis firm that works with many of the world’s largest advertisers, reviewed an advanced copy of the Adalytics report.

“In its relentless pursuit of growth, Google seems to have made some highly questionable decisions that put their customers, brand advertisers, at significant risk,” he wrote.

Estimates suggest GSP generates about $10.5 billion annually, but the ad-tech firm Adalytics alleges the program is filled with unsafe ad inventory, including pornography sites, right-wing fringe publishers, and White House-sanctioned Iranian and Russian sites.

The report, published online by Adalytics, includes a screenshot of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) search ad and U.S. Army search ad being served on, the website of the Iran Alloy Steel Company based in Tehran. The company is under U.S. Treasury OFAC sanctions under U.S. Presidential Executive Order 13871.

“This raises the possibility that ads were served on websites and publishers despite the brand’s deliberate efforts to achieve brand safety and exercise control over their media investments,” writes Adalytics.

BMW and Uber were observed to have their search ads on Breitbart specifically as recently as November 2023, according to the report.

The companies initially asked to have the site blacklisted in 2017.

Advertisers can see how much of their media served on non-Google through GSP sites, compared with Google’s owned-and-operated search. They do not, however, gain access to information on site-level disclosures or some type of registry to track those enrolled in the program, which makes it difficult to identify the amount spent on the network.

In other words, Google clearly states in its help section that it does not provide documentation on which websites in the GSP network where ads serve, according to the report.

The list of brands and advertisers whose Google search ads were observed displayed on U.S. Treasury OFAC SDN sanctioned, Iranian and/or pornographic websites include political fundraising search ad campaigns for Speaker Mike Johnson, Senator Ted Cruz, and House Minority Speaker Hakeem Jeffries.

Ad-tech companies include Human Security and DoubleVerify.

The report also notes that several chocolate, soda, and alcohol brands and alcohol distributors had search ads served on websites intended for children.

Copyright 2023 MediaPost Communications. All rights reserved. From By Laurie Sullivan.

To view all articles, check out the Internet Travel Monitor Archive