What Big Tech’s Ban Might Mean for Cryptocurrency Advertising

Following Facebook’s lead, Google has announced it will ban all cryptocurrency advertising on its platforms by June 2018. This restriction applies to all Google-owned platforms including YouTube and any websites where Google sells digital ad space. On Sunday, March 18, 2018, Sky News reported Twitter will ban a range of cryptocurrency advertising by April 2018, including advertising for initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency wallets and some cryptocurrency exchanges. Twitter has not publicly communicated the ban nor has it denied the report.

As Matthew Frankel with the Motley Fool suggests, the main purpose of Google’s ban could be to protect investors without harming those already currently involved in the industry for the sake of positive development of the blockchain technology business ecosystem as a whole. Still, the reasoning and repercussions of this ban are worth investigating further.

While straightforward in delivery, the announcement itself has far-reaching implications for advertisers in the cryptocurrency space. The instance also leaves others with one more example to gauge Google’s position of power, responsibility and liability over online communication.

The news came as part of Google Adwords’ annual “trust and safety” report in the form of a new policy “to restrict the advertisement of Contracts of Difference, rolling spot forex and financial spread betting” — all speculative high-risk methods for generating greater amounts of profit in the short term with a low barrier of entry.

Because cryptocurrency has always been associated with financial volatility and has more recently become a hot-button topic in finance and technology in general, understanding why Google has banned these other financial products might indicate a more rational consideration for the ban.

Specifically, the update stated that advertisements for “cryptocurrencies and related content (including but not limited to initial coin offerings, cryptocurrency exchanges, wallets and cryptocurrency trading advice) will no longer be served.” While the statement goes on to say that certain Contracts of Difference, rolling spot forex and financial spread betting can be authorized to advertise through Adwords in certain countries based on Google’s certification, there is no mention of cryptocurrencies. Finally, “Advertisers can request certification with Google starting March 2018 when the application form is published.”

Blanket Approach

Bitcoin Magazine spoke with Rick Hanna, a digital strategist with BTC Inc, to better understand the situation. According to Hanna, setting the update (bans are not typical) ahead of time, for June 2018, is typical of Google Adwords updates and changes. “It gives their developers and end users time to implement and adjust for the changes. And a lot of cryptocurrency advertisers will be using Google and Facebook for the time being until it closes.”

For Hanna, based on past behavior, the most atypical thing about Facebook and Google’s announcements is the “blanket approach” which bans all cryptocurrency advertising:

“Blanket approach raises eyebrows because you recognize how much they act as gatekeepers. A blanket ban seems a bit heavy-handed to squash a few bad eggs.”

Hanna recognized that other social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Medium and Reddit will be used more often unless they follow suit.

Reasons and Repercussions

Tatiana Moroz is the founder of Crypto Media Hub, a consultancy specializing in advertising, PR, marketing and events for the cryptocurrency space since 2015, with clients like Vaultoro, Blockfinity and Zencash. While her company targets mainly publisher advertising, whether that be through website banner ads and original content or on events, rather than on Google or Facebook, Moroz helped to articulate big tech’s thinking for the ban as well as potential repercussions for companies who rely on various advertising platforms to get their message across.

“This is not intended to sound conspiratorial in any way, but I think that Facebook and Google are very large corporations embedded in the establishment system,” Moroz told Bitcoin Magazine. “They get a lot of benefit from that system. That has been proven with the way they censor their users and the way they exploit their users by incorrectly selling their information. When I look at their policy on cryptocurrency, I think that it’s a disruptive technology that could potentially eat their lunch.”

On the other hand, Moroz also admitted that these same corporations have valid concern with regard to liability: “The SEC regulation around cryptocurrency has been somewhat unclear in an ever-evolving landscape, so, by allowing cryptocurrency advertisements, they might be opening themselves up to legal liability without necessarily knowing it.”

Separating the Wheat From the Chaff

Even for media and marketing companies that specialize in cryptocurrency, filtering potential clients through a vetting process that weeds out scams or potential pump-and-dump projects can be a difficult process that must constantly be redefined. From this perspective, the prospect of laying down a blanket approach to banning all cryptocurrency advertisements may be the easiest way to save time, while eliminating liability and mitigating the responsibility of imposing an evaluation framework that could stunt the industry or appear in any way, shape or form as collusion.

However, the reality of the power which both Facebook and Google hold over the digital world means that even if they are attempting to mitigate their responsibility for something as new and unpredictable as cryptocurrency, banning cryptocurrency advertising is still a method by which they are able to choose the players who can (or cannot) grow their businesses through digital advertising. According to an eMarketer article from last year, together, Google and Facebook were expected to control 63.1 percent of U.S. digital ad investment by the end of 2017…

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