Google Will Require Proof of Identity From All Advertisers


In an effort to fight off fraudulent or misleading online ads, Google will require that all advertisers across its sprawling network prove who they are and where they operate, the company said in a blog post on Thursday.

The names of the companies or people behind ads, as well as their countries of origin, will begin appearing on Google ads this summer, starting with several thousand advertisers a month in the United States before expanding worldwide. The measure, which could take years to implement, is designed as a defense against businesses and individuals who misrepresent themselves in paid online promotions, Google said.

The move comes as Google tries to tamp down misinformation and scams related to the coronavirus pandemic. It expands a 2018 verification policy focused on political advertisers serving election ads.

Broadening the policy will “help support the health of the digital advertising ecosystem by detecting bad actors and limiting their attempts to misrepresent themselves,” wrote John Canfield, who handles ad integrity for Google, in the blog post.

In the past, Google has cited predatory behavior by companies that trumpet payday loans, bail-bonds services and third-party tech support, often banning ads outright. In September, Google said that it had taken down more than 3.2 billion ads that violated its advertising policies in a year, or more than 100 bad ads per second.

Under the new policy, Google will suspend the accounts of advertisers that do not provide proof of identity, including W9 forms, passports and other personal identification and business incorporation files. Previously, Google had requested basic information, like names, but did not require documentation.

“Who doesn’t want an internet that is more truthful, especially with the rise of fake news, fake businesses and fake face masks?” said Douglas Rozen, the chief media officer at the digital ad agency 360i. “The inevitability of this makes sense in today’s environment.”

Google intensified efforts to clean up ads after it was discovered that websites spreading false information about the 2016 presidential election were making money by selling ads through the company’s advertising networks.

In late 2016, Google kicked off hundreds of publishers from its AdSense advertising system. Two years later, it required political advertisers to verify their identities before allowing them to buy campaign ads. The move came after Google’s disclosure to Congress that it had accepted nearly $5,000 in advertising during the election cycle from the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company accused of meddling in the race.

More recently, Google has been playing cat-and-mouse with advertisers trying to circumvent its ban on ads that profit from shortages caused by the pandemic. Even as Google said it was catching millions of problematic virus-related ads a day, its networks still failed to rein in many others.

“There’s a lot of money in Google ads; it’s easy for someone to start an advertising account and start dumping money into their system,” said Jared Moré, a digital marketing consultant.

Mr. Moré, who has worked with health care companies for nearly 20 years, said he has seen plenty of sketchy behavior, especially involving search results and ads for drug and alcohol treatment centers. In 2018, Google began requiring advertisers in that category to be certified as addiction services providers.

Expanding the verification process is a necessary step, he said.

“It shouldn’t be a hassle for 99 percent of advertisers,” he said. “It will only be difficult for people who are maybe doing something unscrupulous.”



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