UPDATED: Terrorists, Not Payday Lenders, Can Profit From Google Ad Platform

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By Emily Zanotti | 2:25 pm, May 12, 2016

UPDATED: An Islamic extremist Muhammad Jibril Abdul Rahman, known as the “Prince of Jihad” was profiting off the Google AdSense platform, according to a report in the Financial Times. Rahman, a terrorist himself as well as a global Jihad financier, was serving up Google ads between pictures of beheaded ISIS hostages and terrorist propaganda videos.

Although Google has announced that it will not work with advertisers it considers “unsavory,” including payday lenders, which Google will block from its AdWords advertising platform completely in July, Rahman reportedly made thousands by placing Google ads on his Jihadi propaganda website. The Google AdSense ads – for major companies including CitiBank and Mircosoft – were allowed to appear next to “images of beheadings and hanged men” and next to videos promoting radical Islam and encouraging support for the Islamic State (but Google will cut payday lenders from its advertising network in July in order to save consumers from encountering the clear and present danger of online loan companies).

Screen grab of Muhammad Jibril Abdul Rahman during his trial in 2010.
Screen grab of Muhammad Jibril Abdul Rahman during his trial in 2010.

Rahman is no small time player, either. He helped finance the 2009 suicide bombing at two hotels in Jakarta, which killed 9 people and injured more than 50, moving money from international terror support networks directly to the Indonesian terror network that carried out the bombings. He is a terrorist trained in Pakistan and involved with both Al Qaeda and the Taliban and, as a known terrorist money man, he’s sanctioned by both the US Treasury department and the United Nations security council. That means that no American company can legally interact with Rahman, and all of his assets – anywhere in the globe – are supposed to be frozen.

Google cancelled Rahman’s account after the FT report surfaced, claiming that the were unaware that Rahman was making money off their AdSense network, which allows website owners to help Google attract advertisers with the promise that their ads will appear to huge audiences, on sites across the web. In return for ad space, Google and website owners share profits.

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Google announced Thursday that it will no longer accept AdWords advertising from controversial short-term, high-interest lending companies known as “payday lenders.”

Starting in mid-July, any lender that offers loans for two months or less or at an interest rate of 36% or higher will no longer be able to buy the coveted space at the top of Google’s search pages. Companies seeking to purchase AdWords advertising will have to disclose their lending practices, length of loan and interest rate, and Google will examine the applications on a case-by-case basis.

Google already claims to ban search advertising for other “unsavory” items, like illicit drugs, prostitution, some types of pornography and guns (you can still find plenty of options with a regular Google search, of course). But this appears to be the first time that Google has made an arbitrary decision to ban something it simply doesn’t like as a matter of policy, and it’s announcing its ban at a critical time for the short-term lending industry.

Congress is reviewing legislation that would impose Federal regulation on short-term lenders, and there’s been bipartisan opposition, particularly because short-term lending is often the only option low-income consumers have to obtain credit. By ending payday lenders’ ability to use Google’s AdWords system, Google cuts off a significant avenue for those financial services companies to reach customers—even if they’re not one of the “bad actors” Google is intending to ban.

Google, as a company, now seems to think consumers cannot make educated decisions about short-term lenders, so it’s making sure it does what it can to cut off consumer choice.

Although Google claims the move is made to reflect a “growing consensus,” it has no problem selling other products most states consider unsavory where those products are legal, even if there are actual, not proposed, Federal regulations in place. While you can’t purchase marijuana legally online (or anywhere else) in most states, Google provides AdWords grants—free AdWords advertising—t0 marijuana growers in Michigan, where medical marijuana is legal (with restrictions).

But payday lenders in Michigan? Out of luck. While Google already begun “cracking down” on online lending, there are still plenty of shady-looking advertisers ready to lend us money over the Internet. Google says all the ads will be gone by mid-July.

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And that’s just Google’s AdWords platform, which is only part of its advertising offering. Google also offers AdSense, which allows users to advertise on third-party websites through Google’s advertising network, and which helps third-party sites generate revenue in partnership with Google. Advertisers pay Google for space on the advertising platform, which makes Google money, and in return, Google pays third party websites to host their ads.

Google seems to have no problem allowing just about anyone to advertise with AdSense—and to host AdSense ads. For instance, Google’s AdSense appears on everything from online drug purchasing guides to (you guessed it) sites for payday lenders.

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