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Publishers: Rock; Advertisers: Hard Place

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Some ado was made recently about Google AdSense sensitivity filters blocking revenue-generating ads based on the nature of the content, and replacing those spots with public service announcements. There is additional concern that publishers will refrain from hard-hitting content to protect that revenue. We got in touch with Google to their side of it.

We reference this East Bay Express article by Chris Thompson as the basis for our questions. Thompson details a number of instances where contextual advertising was pulled because of racy content. The prime reason for this, as the classic example, is that GM doesn’t want to be branded next to gory car crash stories and photos. In that situation, the ad is often replaced with a public service announcement.

And that cuts into publisher revenue.

But, if looking at it fairly, it’s a real Catch 22 for Google. The company is criticized by publishers for replacing the ads. But if they didn’t, they’d lose the fuel that propels the Google engine: advertisers.

Google business product manager for trust and safety, Shuman Ghosemajumder says that publishers, too, have said they do not want contextually inappropriate ads showing alongside sensitive content.

“We built algorithms to handle this issue when we launched AdSense, and have refined them over the last several years,” said Ghosemajumder. “Originally, when we detected that a page was about a sensitive topic where contextual advertising was not suitable, we showed public service announcements instead.”

PSAs, which the government requires that broadcast media allocate a percentage of airtime to, are educational in nature and are sponsored nonprofit organizations who are recipients in Google Grants. But in recent years, Google has tweaked the system so that an insensitive ad is not always replaced with a PSA.

“We still show these public service announcements in certain cases, but have also introduced the use of carefully handled remaps for sensitive topics which are revenue-producing, but handled in a sensitive fashion,” he said. “This program has resulted in significant revenue improvements for many of our news publishers who tend to cover more sensitive topics.”

In addition to content filters that pull ads from inappropriate content, like news about a catastrophic event, Google also has an algorithm that tracks these sites based on a combination of keywords, content, and context.

” We also have a review process in case a publisher wishes to call a particular site to our attention – in that case, we will review the site manually and take appropriate action,” said Ghosemajumder.

So how much control do publishers have over the AdSense displays? Well, not much, really. While publishers can block certain types of advertising, they cannot directly select advertisers to appear through AdSense, as they could if they brokered their own pixels. Though a process of elimination (blocking low-paying ads) could work that way.

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Publishers: Rock; Advertisers: Hard Place
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