The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is investigating several reported examples of Google allowing ads from “predatory lenders.” The results follow a report in the Observer on Sunday that highlighted 24 ads for which 12 advertisers, including credit firms and loan brokers, had been paid.
The specified practices of Google prevent the sale of ads related to financial services that do not disclose information about repayment terms or other potential dangers to borrowers. It specifically lists failure to disclose related charges as something that is prohibited, noting: “Disclosures may not be posted as rollover text or made available through any other link or tab.” They need to be clear and immediately visible without you having to click or hover over anything.”
It also cites failure to include links to third-party accreditations or endorsements when affiliation is claimed or implied, in violation of the terms of credit-related advertising. That semblance of legitimacy — and Google’s efforts to prevent lenders from making false associations with real organizations — was partly behind the search giant’s efforts to end the practice in 2016.
The ads marked by the observer including one that offered ultra-high interest rates of up to 1,721%.
Vendors’ marketing techniques — particularly messages related to the speed at which the money will be available — appear to be in violation of Google’s policies. After the Observer’s report, the Guardian found that many of the same companies were running similar ads, even though Google had removed the original ones. In 2020, Google removed 123 million ads related to violations of its financial services policies.
The ASA has specific policies against pirated credit advertising and has applied them to a variety of advertising media. Its information page on rules related to financial services highlights that it confirmed investigation of an advertisement by Sunny Loans on the grounds that it could mislead consumers about repayment terms.
The problem is exacerbated online because of the speed and reach with which digital advertisers can reach consumers. The ASA has stated that while responsibility for ensuring ads aren’t in violation of policies rests with the advertiser, media platforms like Google also “have some responsibility for ensuring that content conforms to the rules.” A spokesman told the Guardian: “Platforms should and will take steps to ensure misleading and irresponsible ads are not published.”