BITCOIN BANNED: Google is to ban ads on high-risk financial products from June. PICTURE: 123/ELNUR AMIKISHIYEV
BITCOIN BANNED: Google is to ban ads on high-risk financial products from June. PICTURE: 123/ELNUR AMIKISHIYEV

San Francisco — Google will ban online advertisements promoting crypto-currencies and initial coin offerings (ICOs) starting in June, as part of a broader crackdown on the marketing of a new breed of high-risk financial products.

Alphabet’s Google announced the decision on Wednesday night in an update to its policy, which says it will begin to block ads for "crypto-currencies and related content". Facebook took a similar step in January, leaving the two largest web-ad sellers out of reach of the nascent digital-currency sector.

Bitcoin, the largest crypto-currency by market value, pared an advance of about 2% after Google’s announcement, trading little changed at $9,099 as of 1.04pm in Hong Kong. Rival coins ripple and ether also pared gains.

The internet-search giant is also restricting ads for financial products, including binary options, a risky derivative with an all-or-nothing pay-off. Right now, Google queries for terms such as "binary options" and "buy bitcoin" produce four ads at the top of the results.

Facebook, Google’s primary rival for ad dollars, banned ads for crypto-currencies in January. Some aggressive businesses found a loophole: purposely misspelling words such as "bitcoin" in their ads. A Google spokeswoman said the company’s policies will try to anticipate workarounds like this.

Google’s updated policy came with the release of its annual "bad ads" report, a review of the number of malicious, deceptive and controversial ads Google scrubs from its massive search, display and video network. In 2017, Google said it removed more than 3.2-billion advertisements from the web. That’s up from 1.7-billion in 2016. Last year, for instance, Google pulled 79-million ads for luring online clickers to websites with malware.

Google is also accelerating a push against misleading content. The company suspended 7,000 customer accounts for ads that impersonated a news article — what Google calls "tabloid cloaking" — and blocked more than 12,000 websites for copying information from other publications.

It’s unlikely that the 3.2-billion ads pulled in 2017, nor the coming crypto-currency ban, will have a serious impact on sales. Last year, Google generated $95.4bn in ad revenue, up 20% from 2016.