Technology news

Google aims to improve timely enforcement of the Children’s Ads Policy

Alphabet’s Google said this week it would immediately improve enforcement of an age-sensitive advertising policy after Reuters found ads for sex toys, alcohol and high-risk investments in its search engine that should have been blocked as part of its efforts to comply with UK regulations.

Britain began enforcing regulations last September aimed at protecting children from online tracking. In response, Google began changing the settings for its services in Europe and elsewhere for users under 18. Among the measures announced in August was “expanding safeguards to prevent age-sensitive categories of ads from being shown to teenagers.”

Specifically, the search giant has started using automated tools to block ads related to categories such as alcohol, gambling and prescription drugs from showing to people who aren’t logged in. to a Google account or confirmed to be at least 18 years old.

Tech companies face a growing challenge with policing their sprawling services, and according to posts on online advertising forums and two advertisers, Google’s enforcement has been spotty.

The advertisers, who sought anonymity for fear of retaliation from the tech company, said they were frustrated by large lost sales due to Google’s search engine correctly blocking their ads from logged out users while mistakenly allowing their competitors’ ads.

Advertisements were shown in the UK to disconnected users last week for leveraged trading, cholesterol drugs, adult toy retailers and a major grocer promoting a product made from vodka, Reuters found.

“We have policies in place that limit where we show certain categories of age-sensitive ads,” Google said. “The ads in question were mislabeled and should have been banned from showing. We are taking immediate action to resolve this issue.”

He declined to give details of the adjustments.

Google’s ad rivals such as Meta’s Facebook and Microsoft ban many categories of age-sensitive ads altogether or require advertisers to target their ads in ways that limit exposure to minors. Microsoft declined to comment and Facebook did not respond to requests for comment.

The UK Children’s Code requires online services to meet 15 design and privacy standards to protect children, such as limiting the collection of their location and other personal information. Google said its filtering of age-sensitive ads is key to its compliance with the code.

Advocacy group 5Rights Foundation, which campaigned for the regulations and reviewed Reuters’ findings, said tech companies should regularly publish internal research on their compliance with the code and their own policies.

“We have to beware of ‘security washing,'” 5Rights said. “Tech companies need to back up their claims with actions and demonstrate how they comply with regulations, especially in the early stages of implementation.”

Google did not respond to comments. The company declined to share detailed information with Reuters about how often it failed to block age-sensitive ads.

The UK Information Commissioner’s Office said in November it had contacted Google, Apple and other social media, streaming and gaming companies to review their compliance with the code. The review is ongoing, the privacy regulator told Reuters.

© Thomson Reuters 2022