Google relaxes its broad ban on ads that mention coronavirus

Sundar Pichai, chief executive officer at Google LLC, speaks during the Google Cloud Next ’19 event in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.

Michael Short | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Google is relaxing its policy on some ads related to COVID-19 after originally blocking all such ads. 

Google said it started blocking ads related to coronavirus in January under its “sensitive events policy.” That policy was designed to block ads attempting to capitalize on shorter-term events such as natural disasters. But as the pandemic continues, the company said it is adjusting enforcement “to ensure that we are protecting users while prioritizing critical information.” 

The policy change comes as analysts believe Google is set to take a significant hit in ad revenue, because the online advertising space is slowing down. Axios first reported the news Thursday. 

Google said it has been adjusting enforcement and began allowing health information PSA ads from government entities. Now it is looking at ways to support “limited COVID-19-related ads from hospitals, medical providers, government entities and NGOs” and allow more advertisers to run such ads. 

In an email sent to advertisers, Adam Beatty, Google’s head of industry for elections, wrote that “coronavirus has become an ongoing and important part of everyday conversation, including a relevant topic in political discourse and for many advertisers in different sectors.” He said this week, the company is allowing ads from new advertisers including government entities, hospitals, medical providers and NGOs and will soon begin allowing other advertisers including political organizations to run ads related to COVID-19. 

CNBC reported in early March that Google was showing ads and sponsored shopping listings for hand sanitizer, gloves, masks and other products purporting to prevent coronavirus, despite its policy against them. Google later said it had banned ads for medical face masks altogether. 

Google’s YouTube has also relaxed its policies on advertising as it pertains to coronavirus in recent weeks. In a reversal of its previous policy, YouTube said in March it was planning on enabling ads on some videos discussing coronavirus. The company previously did not allow monetization if a video included more than “a passing mention” of the coronavirus.

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