The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is investigating multiple reported examples of Google allowing ads from ‘predatory lenders’. The findings follow a report in the Observer on Sunday that highlighted 24 ads it found had been paid for by 12 advertisers including loan firms and credit brokers.
Google’s stated practices prevent the sale of ads related to financial services that do not disclose information about repayment terms or other potential hazards for borrowers. It specifically cites a failure to disclose associated fees as something that is banned, noting: “Disclosures can’t be posted as roll-over text or made available through another link or tab. They must be clearly and immediately visible without needing to click or hover over anything.”
It also cites failure to include links to third-party accreditation or endorsement where affiliation is asserted or implied as against the terms of loan-related advertising. That veneer of legitimacy – and Google’s efforts to prevent loan providers making false association with real organizations – was in part behind the search giant’s efforts to stamp down on this practice in 2016.
The ads flagged by the Observer included one that offered ultra-high interest rates of up to 1,721%.
The marketing techniques of the providers – particularly messaging that relates to the speed with which the money will be available – seems to go against Google’s policies. Following the Observer’s report, the Guardian found out that many of the same companies were publishing similar adverts despite Google removing the initial ones. In 2020 Google removed 123m ads related to breaches of its financial services policies.
The ASA has concrete guidelines against predatory loan advertising and has applied them across a wide range of advertising mediums. Its information page on rules related to financial services highlights it has upheld investigation into an ad from Sunny Loans on the basis it could mislead consumers around repayment terms.
The issue is exacerbated online due to the speed and reach with which digital advertisers can reach consumers. The ASA has stated that while the responsibility for ensuring ads do not breach guidelines rests with the advertiser, media platforms such as Google also “bear some responsibility for ensuring content complies with the rules”. A spokesperson told the Guardian: “Platforms should and do take measures to ensure misleading and irresponsible ads are not published.”