Google Says It Bans Gun Ads, but It Will Still Place Them on Websites and in Apps

Craig Silverman and Ruth Talbot, ProPublica:

For roughly two decades, Google has boasted that it doesn’t accept gun ads, a reflection of its values and culture. But a ProPublica analysis shows that before and after mass shootings in May at a New York grocery store and a Texas elementary school, millions of ads from the some of the nation’s largest firearms makers flowed through Google’s ad systems and onto websites and apps — in some cases without the site or app owners’ knowledge and in violation of their policies.


In reality, Google has two sets of rules for weapons ads. One is for Google Ads, the ads that run on the company’s own ad network and on properties it owns, such as YouTube or search results. The other is for ads sold by partners, such as ad exchanges, that place ads using Google’s systems. Ad exchanges enable digital ads to be bought and sold via an automated bidding process. For these partners, Google operates as an “exchange of exchanges” — in which it facilitates the buying and selling of ads on other exchanges — and takes a cut of each ad transaction. Partner exchanges are guided by a set of more permissive rules that allow gun ads to flow through Google’s ad systems.

This looks like way for Google to maintain an arms-length distance from the lucrative markets it nominally claims are too dirty to do business with. I opened a private browser window, went to one of the survivalist websites listed in this article, and it took me exactly one attempt to see an ad for a folding semi-automatic rifle served by Google’s DoubleClick and hosted on a Google server.