Study Says Google Violated Own Ad Standards, Could Face Refunds

The report says many TrueView in-stream ads were served muted and auto-playing as out-stream video or as obscured video players on independent sites.

's proprietary TrueView skippable in-stream video ads have come under scrutiny. According to a report by Adalytics, advertisers, including Fortune 500 brands, the US federal government, and many small businesses, may have been misled for years about the nature of these ads. This misalignment may have cost media buyers billions of digital ad dollars, which were ultimately spent on small, muted, out-stream, auto-playing, or interstitial video ad units running on independent websites and mobile apps.

TrueView is Google's proprietary cost-per-view, choice-based ad format that serves on YouTube, millions of apps, and across the web. With TrueView, advertisers only pay for actual views of their ads, rather than impressions. However, the report finds that significant quantities of TrueView skippable in-stream ads did not meet Google's stated quality standards. For instance, many TrueView in-stream ads were served muted and auto-playing as out-stream video or as obscured video players on independent sites.

Major Brands Affected

For a major infrastructure brand, only approximately 16% of their TrueView skippable in-stream video ad budget was spent on YouTube.com or YouTube's apps. The majority of their budget was spent on tens of thousands of different websites or mobile apps which make up the Google Video Partner (GVP) network. The majority of those GVP mobile apps and websites served the TrueView skippable in-stream video ads in outstream, muted, auto-playing, interstitial, and/or non-visible ad slots – which are inconsistent with the TrueView or skippable in-stream ad format.

Brands that may have purchased muted, auto-playing, mis-declared TrueView skippable in-stream inventory include Johnson & Johnson, HP, Ernst & Young, Bayer, JPMorgan Chase Bank, American Express, Samsung, Sephora, Macy's, Disney Plus, Best Buy, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors, Office Depot, Pizza Hut, , Instacart, IBM (Redhat), Ford, Honda, Vimeo, HBO Max, and many more.

Industry Repercussions

Ruben Schreurs, the Chief Product Office of Ebiquity, a major marketing and media consultancy, commented on the report, stating, “The research report by Adalytics is highly incriminating. Based on the findings and allegations represented within, I see this as a structural misrepresentation of advertising products at best, and downright fraudulent misleading practices at worst. If true, this will have major repercussions in the industry and lead to a significant negative impact on Google's perceived quality and reliability.”

Google Refutes Allegations

In response to the allegations, Google has outright denied the conclusions of the Adalytics study. In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, the tech giant stated that the report “makes many claims that are inaccurate and doesn't reflect how we keep advertisers safe.” Google further stated that they regularly remove ads from partner sites that violate their AdSense policies and that they will take any appropriate actions once the full report is shared with them.

While Google has not yet issued refunds for buyers of AdSense who were affected by the violations of their own standards, multiple statements of clients looking for refunds were provided to WSJ. The company's response to these serious allegations and the potential refunds could significantly impact the digital advertising landscape.