Some industry commentators have suggested that Google’s motives for introducing a blanket ban on cryptocurrency ads may not be all they seem, and could make the company appear unethical.
Back in March, Google followed Facebook’s lead (from January) and imposed a blanket ban on all cryptocurrency adverts on its platforms. The ban, which starts from this month, was announced following reports of scammers using adverts on popular platforms to fraudulently take money from people who believed they could cash in on the massive rise in the value of cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin.
A popular con has been to use scam ad campaigns to sell units of a cryptocurrency ahead of its launch – known as initial coin offerings (ICO). Research has found that 80 per cent of ICOs have been fraudulent.
Also, the cryptocurrency value bubble led to the rise of ‘crypto-jacking’, where devices are taken over by people trying to mine crypto-currencies e.g. using Android phone-wrecking Trojan malware ‘Loapi’.
Online tech commentators have been quick to point out that even though Google has said that it made the move to ban cryptocurrency ads to confront criminality, protect web users, and to regulate what their users are reading, Google is also believed to have an interest in cryptocurrencies itself.
For example, back in May, Google is reported to have approached the founder of the world’s second most popular cryptocurrency, Ethereum, to explore possible market opportunities for the two companies. In fact, some commentators believe that Google may be acting unethically by banning cryptocurrency adverts because it is planning to launch its own cryptocurrency and, therefore, wants to give its own product the best chance in the marketplace.
This idea has been strengthened by the fact that Google continues to show adverts with links to gambling websites and other services which some would describe as unethical. It has been suggested that Google appears willing to ban cryptocurrency adverts, but still allows job postings, and adverts for anti-virus software or charities, all of which can also be known entry points for scammers.
Google is also thought to have ambitions to make use of blockchain, which is among other things, the underlying technology behind the bitcoin currency. It is interesting that this interest follows Facebook, which is reported to be setting up a blockchain group that will report directly to the company’s CTO, Mike Schroepfer.
Putting a blanket ban on cryptocurrency adverts does not appear to have been an entirely successful strategy for others i.e. Facebook. For example, some advertisers have been able to circumvent Facebook’s cryptocurrency ad ban by abbreviating words like cryptocurrency to c-currency, and by simply switching the letter ‘o’ in the word bitcoin to a zero.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Google is a powerful private company, and with other big players in the market, it is looking to make the most of market opportunities e.g. Facebook, and it is only natural that Google is likely to also want to explore the potential of those opportunities, even if it has made an ethical stand in public about cryptocurrency adverts.
This story does illustrate, however, that ethics play an important part in business, and can play an important role in supporting the value of a brand, particularly in a digital world where inconsistencies can be spotted and widely reported immediately.
When you think about it, Google has a trusted brand and is well placed in the market to perhaps get involved in, or even produce its own cryptocurrency, particularly where there are profits to be made and when cryptocurrencies appear to have an important future beyond the initial bubble of bitcoin-mania. The important thing for Google is that it, along with Facebook, was seen to be doing the right thing when cryptocurrency scam adverts began making the news, and there is still no real, firm proof that Google will commit itself to its own cryptocurrency yet.
It is also not surprising that companies such as Google and Facebook would want to explore the huge potential opportunities that blockchain offers. It is worth remembering that blockchain has shown itself to have many great uses beyond just cryptocurrecies e.g. enabling students to share their qualifications with employers, recording the temperature of sensitive medicines being transported from manufacturer to hospital in hot climates, as a ledger to record data about wine certification, as a ledger for ownership and storage history, as a system for tracking consignments that addresses visibility and efficiency, and for sharing information between energy suppliers to speed the supplier switching process. Dubai has also invested in using blockchain to put all its documents on blockchain’s shared open database system by 2020 in order to help to cut through Middle Eastern bureaucracy, speed up civic transactions and processes, and bring a positive transformation to the whole region.
Both cryptocurrencies and blockchain have a long way to run yet, and Google and Facebook will certainly not be the only web giants exploring their potential.