Why Google is tweaking its ad blacklist policy

Google announced today that it changed how it enforces ad-removal policies on its ad network AdSense and DoubleClick ad exchange.

Previously, Google used to default to removing ads across an entire website whenever it noticed the website was using intrusive ad formats or placing ads in brand-unsafe contexts like gambling and hate speech. Now, Google’s default is to remove ads on a page-by-page basis. Sources said this change is most likely to benefit small websites reliant on user-generated content that are at risk of being blacklisted due to their rogue, extremist posts. For larger, quality pubs, this is less of an issue.

“I don’t know of any premium publishers who are getting their ads shut off,” said Justin Festa, chief digital officer of LittleThings.

A Google spokesperson said publishers’ requests for it to take a more granular approach to disabling ads drove the policy adjustment. The spokesperson declined to specify which publishers will be most affected by the change or how many individual pages must be disabled before an entire website gets its ads pulled.

A publisher source, speaking on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said that shifting ad removal down to the page level “sounds like a victory for the people that casually mix in false and misleading news alongside things that are pointed but factually accurate.” An anonymous ad fraud researcher speculated this type of change could help Google quietly remove ads from the most extreme articles on so-called alt-right sites like Breitbart News without entering political territory by banning the site outright.

Another anonymous publisher said the adjustment could help blogging platforms and contributor networks. Blocking at the page level would help these sites determine where they are non-compliant without cutting them off altogether, the source said. Ad fraud consultant Augustine Fou said removing ads page by page would most help small “legitimate websites” that regularly have their ads yanked whenever malware compromises a few of their pages.

Google is also rolling out a new dashboard to publishers on AdSense that lets them centrally monitor whether their ads comply with Google’s policies. Previously, publishers got emails or notifications whenever their ads were removed, but they didn’t have a centralized hub to check if specific ads were under review or removed, or why those ads were in question to begin with.

The dashboard is available to 1,200 pilot partners, and by the end of the month, it will go live to all 2 million publishers that use AdSense. Given the vast number of websites that use Google’s ad products, a shift that helps small pubs stay compliant can have a collective impact for the ad giant, even if it doesn’t apply much to large publishers. But Festa said the dashboard will be useful, even for premium pubs, to make sure they, too, comply with Google. “No publisher website site stays the same year after year,” he said.


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