While Google’s famous motto says “Don’t be evil,” industry experts believe that the company’s self-policed decision to ban cryptocurrency adverts on its platforms is “ill-thought-out and potentially even unethical.”
Google’s Mixed Signals
The policy came into effect in June 2018, after Google announced the ban in March 2018. Additionally, social media giant Facebook and micro-blogging platform Twitter announced similar bans, in what now seems like a pattern of large tech platforms circumventing official regulations by policing their platforms.
However, both Facebook and Google have issued statements that show their interest in cryptocurrencies, specifically their underlying blockchain technology. This sparks the undeniable question: are the advert bans much more than a ulteriorly-motivated decision to check fraudulent activities?
Speaking to The Independent, Phillip Nunn, CEO of Blackmore Group, stated:
“I understand that Facebook and Google are under a lot of pressure to regulate what their users are reading, but they are still advertising gambling websites and other unethical practices.”
Nunn expressed his suspicions regarding the ban and added that they might be mere implementations to fit in with the broader business plan to launch their own cryptocurrency and eliminate market competitors.
Luring Ethereum’s Co-founder
Interestingly, Ethereum co-founder Vitalik Buterin was approached by Google headhunters in May 2018, igniting a debate among the community if his services were needed for a different, privatized cryptocurrency venture.
While Google did not respond to media questions pertaining to the purported mail, a spokesperson in March 2018 confirmed their interest in blockchain technology:
“Like many new technologies, we have individuals in various teams exploring the potential use of blockchain, but it’s too early for us to speculate about any possible uses or plans.”
Facebook’s Blockchain Push
In May 2018, Facebook reshuffled David Marcus, the head of Messenger, to a blockchain-based role within the company, announcing that his team shall “focus on exploring the use of blockchain technology in Facebook’s core business.”
The company’s attempts to ban cryptocurrencies advertisements on its platform in January 2018 were humorously circumvented by cryptocurrency projects, who resorted to using simple techniques. For example, “cryptocurrency” was shortened to “c-currency” and “bitcoin” was spelled with a zero instead of “o.”
Investor Protection or Unethical Information Blocking?
On the companies’ part, scammers were launching fraudulent cryptocurrency projects, shady ICOs, and deceitful cryptocurrency exchanges to defraud customers. Thus, the move served to protect users. Research backs this reason as well; reports suggest that 2017 saw the launch of as many as 80 percent of fraudulent ICOs.
While clamping down on cryptocurrency advertisements to protect user interests is a positive step, the move negatively affects public sentiments towards the space in general. Furthermore, the ban unfairly targets the emerging industry. Ed Cooper, head of mobile at Revolut, echoes the thought:
“Unfortunately, the fact that this ban is a blanket ban will mean that legitimate cryptocurrency businesses which provide valuable services to users will be unfairly caught in the crossfire.”
Gareth Malna, a fintech solicitor at the UK law firm Burges Salmon, suggests that the ban imposed by Google contradicts the underlying ethos of the world’s largest search engine: “For Google to step in and block that market may sound like consumer protection, but is potentially overstepping its perceived role as gatekeeper to information.”