Google Disputes Allegations of Violating Guidelines and Misleading Advertisers

Google has strongly denied what it calls "extremely inaccurate claims" suggesting that it may have violated its own guidelines and misled advertisers regarding ad viewership on third-party websites

The tech giant refutes claims of ad fraud and non-compliance with ad placement standards.

Google has strongly denied what it calls “extremely inaccurate claims” suggesting that it may have violated its own guidelines and misled advertisers regarding ad viewership on third-party websites. The allegations pertain to the placement of video ads on external platforms through the Google Video Partner (GVP) network and TrueView, an ad product utilized on YouTube. According to The Wall Street Journal, Google assures brands that their ads will appear on “high-quality” sites, be displayed before the main video content, and play with audio. It also states that advertisers won’t be charged if users skip the ads. However, a third-party analytics company, Adalytics, asserts that Google falls short of meeting these standards in approximately 80% of cases.

Adalytics’ report reveals that the ads frequently appear on lower-quality websites, including those disseminating misinformation or hosting pirated content. Moreover, the positioning of the ads is often in small video players located on the side or bottom of the screen, away from the main “in-stream” content. The report highlights instances where ads run without audio, or where there is a lack of substantial video content between consecutive TrueView ads. Adalytics further notes that certain ads autoplay without any viewer interaction. Additionally, in some cases, the skip button that should appear after five seconds is obscured, compelling viewers to watch the entire ad. Adalytics deems this to be a direct violation of Google’s quality standards for TrueView ads, potentially resulting in artificially inflated ad metrics and increased costs for advertisers.

Adalytics reviewed ad campaigns for over 1,100 brands between 2020 and the present, revealing that notable customers, including the US government, the European Parliament, Disney+, HP, Samsung, Sephora, TikTok, Microsoft, and General Motors, may have inadvertently purchased “muted, auto-playing, mis-declared TrueView skippable in-stream inventory.” Adalytics characterizes this as “ad fraud” and alleges that brands did not receive the expected value for their advertising expenditure. Some advertisers have demanded refunds, and Adalytics suggests that this “misalignment” could have cost brands billions of dollars.

Google vehemently refutes the findings of the report. Marvin Renaud, Google’s global video solutions chief, published a blog post stating that Adalytics utilized unreliable sampling and proxy methodologies. Renaud asserts that the overwhelming majority of video ad campaigns run on YouTube, where brands have the option to opt out of running their ads on GVP-affiliated apps and websites.

However, Adalytics points out that certain types of TrueView ad campaigns have been automatically included in GVP since around July 2019. Adalytics also cites a Google support article indicating that specific video ad campaigns do not allow customers to opt out of running ads on third-party sites and apps. Another support article from Google states that, as of April 2022, certain TrueView campaigns that initially opted out of GVP were automatically enrolled in the program.

Ginny Marvin, Google’s ads product liaison, clarified that there are various campaign types with different options to opt out of GVP. While TrueView campaigns can be managed through Google Ads, performance campaigns like Video Action often achieve optimal results by reaching relevant, larger audiences. For such campaigns, advertisers can work with their account representatives to exclude GVP inventory.

Renaud argues that over 90% of GVP ads are visible to users across the web, emphasizing that Google utilizes real-time ad quality signals to determine if people are present and paying attention. He also emphasizes that Google strictly enforces policies prohibiting third-party sites from using deceptive or disruptive techniques to generate ad revenue, such as placing ads in hidden browser windows. Renaud further highlights that Google took action last year by ceasing to run ads on over 143,000 websites that violated its rules.

These allegations against Google surface amidst heightened scrutiny of its advertising practices. The company faced a lawsuit from the Department of Justice earlier this year, aiming to break up its ad business. Additionally, the European Union recently indicated in a preliminary finding that divesting part of Google’s advertising empire could be the necessary remedy to address antitrust concerns.

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