Thank you for reaching out regarding this story. I apologise for only managing to respond this morning, as you can imagine during tax season we are exceptionally busy.
If you require further comment, please to not hesitate to contact me.
Our responses to your questions:
1) The driving force behind misinformation/fake news websites such as these are monetising the traffic it generates, mainly through advertising revenue. Your company is indirectly contributing towards this with the programmatic advertisements seen on the site. Would you consider this statement a fair summary? If not, please indicate an alternative.
We do not deliberately advertise on fake news sites. Any advertisements, related to our business, appearing on any of these sites result from a Google algorithm that places adverts for its customers due to relative traffic. Inclusion of our advertising on third party websites – that fit into the categories we have selected – is by default and at random.
Google only allows us to disallow websites that fit into its automatically maintained categories (for example adult sites, gaming, casino websites, etc.) or individual websites which we identify and put onto a “disallow list” manually. There is no ’fake news’ category unfortunately, and therefore we can only resort to ban sites as we become aware of them – as we currently do.
2) Who is responsible for your company’s marketing strategy? Do you make use of in-house or external talent to identify and implement these strategies?
We make use of an in-house marketing team and we have a clear process on how to reduce the appearance of our advertisements on fake news sites.
3) What is the mandate of your company’s marketing strategists mentioned in 2) above in respect of advertising on blacklisted websites? For example, how do you ensure that your brand is not associated with pornographic or illegal websites?
It is our strategy to disallow sites as soon as we know they exist. We look out for websites with illicit content and add them to the “disallow list” so that our adverts are not displayed on those sites. We add websites to this list as and when we become aware of them.
We make use of Google AdWords’ categories to explicitly opt out of certain website categories that Google has defined – for example pornographic websites, gambling websites, financial schemes etc.We do not do banner placement or media buying. We operate under Google policies which prohibit advertising on any of the following:
• Adult content
• Adult themes in family content
• Dangerous or derogatory content
• Recreational drugs and drug-related content
• Alcohol-related content
• Tobacco-related content
• Gambling and games-related content
• Healthcare-related content
• Hacking and cracking content
• Pages that offer compensation programs
• Misrepresentative content
• Shocking content
• Weapon-related content
• Content that enables dishonest behaviour
• Illegal content
We highlighted Misrepresentative Content thinking that this would include fake news but unfortunately this is not the case. This is content that aims at;
• Enticing users to engage with content under false or unclear pretences
• “Phishing” for users’ information
• Promotion of content, products, or services using false, dishonest, or deceptive claims (e.g. “Get Rich Quick” schemes)
• Impersonating Google products
• Falsely implying having an affiliation with, or endorsement by, another individual, organization, product, or service
• Directing content about politics, social issues, or matters of public concern to users in a country other than your own, if you misrepresent or conceal your country of origin or other material details about yourself
4) Do you take similar precautions to ensure your brand is not associated with misinformation websites? If not, why not?
As soon as we become aware that one of our adverts has appeared on a website that should be disallowed we add it to the list. For example the screenshot sent to us by yourselves was added to this list to ensure that site does not carry any of our ads again.
5) Were you aware that your advertisements were being published on websites propagating false stories as news?
No we were not. Unfortunately there is not, as yet, a list of fake news websites that we are aware of that we could use to explicitly opt out of Google’s automatic ad rotation. We have to trust Google at being able to categorise websites appropriately, and when we do find unsavoury websites that Google has missed, we opt out of our adverts appearing on them on an individual basis.
6) Now that you are aware that your brand is advertising on misinformation websites, what steps do you intend taking to safeguard the integrity of your brand?
We have added this website’s URL to the list of banned websites on which our advertising must not appear.
We continue to monitor for fake news websites and opt out of our adverts appearing on those websites regularly.