Google takes a tough stance on payday lenders

Stuart Fuller

It appears that the world’s largest online brand is once again flexing its considerable digital muscles to decide what we can and cannot see when we undertake online searches. The news that Google will now ban payday loan ads came as a surprise to many – not least to those domainers. But how exactly will Google be able to implement the censorship, and who benefits from the move?

The keyword ‘loans’ ranks as the second most expensive keyword on Google behind ‘insurance’, and with both the singular and plural versions now available to the right of the dot, competition for space in the searcher’s eye has never been fiercer.

However, in an interesting move, Google’s Director of Global Product Policy David Graff this week posted an update on Google’s AdWords Policy on Lending Products on the company’s blog to explain what they are doing to protect consumers from misleading or even fraudulent adverts for payday loans.

The short-term credit market has been one of the fastest-growing market sectors in the past few years, driven by our recession-fueled desire to spend today and think about the consequences tomorrow. The word ‘austerity’ has been translated into huge profits by some organizations, offering eye-watering interest rates to those who are the most financially vulnerable. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the industry, Google has taken a stance to try and help.

From 13 July 2016, it will ban any sponsored ads through its AdWord platform where repayment of the loan is due within 60 days of the date of issue. In addition, US users will no longer see ads where the APR on offer is 36% or higher.

Graff explains the reasons for this bold move in his blog post. “When ads are good, they connect people to interesting, useful brands, businesses and products. Unfortunately, not all ads are – some are for fake or harmful products, or seek to mislead users about the businesses they represent.” Authorized and regulated financial organizations will still be able to offer their products, including loans, mortgages and credit cards, and the ban will only affect ads being displayed as opposed to indexed search listings.

Although Google has a role to play in the policing of the Internet, it cannot alone be expected to ensure that both brand holders and consumers are kept out of harm’s way. “We have an extensive set of policies to keep bad ads out of our systems – in fact in 2015 alone, we disabled more than 780 million ads for reasons ranging from counterfeiting to phishing”, Graff added. “Ads for financial services are a particular area of vigilance given how core they are to people’s livelihood and wellbeing.”

Brand holders need to stay one step ahead of the miscreants by protecting their brand online. Whether that includes the monitoring of search terms related to their business, keeping an eye on social media or educating their clients, there should be a formal process in place. Financial fraud continues to be a major concern for organizations, so any additional help by the likes of Google should be welcomed.