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Google to let YouTube users opt out of gambling and alcohol ads 26/01/21
• Company will roll out feature in UK this year but without guarantee it will filter out 100% of adverts

YouTube users will be able to opt out of most gambling and alcohol adverts if they don’t want to see them, using tools set to be rolled out by Google in the UK this year.

Google VP Debbie Weinstein said that it was responding to feedback from users concerned by the number of ads for alcohol and gambling that they were seeing online, both on YouTube and on third-party websites.

It is already possible to adjust the content of personalised ads, which are based on users’ browsing history, via Google’s Ad Settings function. But the majority of ads are “contextual”, meaning they are linked to the content being viewed on YouTube or on websites that use Google Ads to sell space to advertisers.

This has led to adverts for online casinos, for instance, appearing on news articles about gambling addiction.

From last year in the US and early this year in the UK and the rest of the world, the company will make it easier to avoid these ads, also via Ad Settings.

The feature will not guarantee to filter out 100% of gambling and alcohol adverts, but Google is understood to be confident it will exclude the vast majority seen on YouTube or on sites that use Google Ads.

The move has followed lengthy discussions with the alcoholic drinks industry. Henry Ashworth, the chief executive of the industry-led International Alliance for Responsible Drinking, said: “Our members are determined to give people greater control over whether they see alcohol-related marketing online. Respecting these personal preferences and recognising differences in culture requires sensitivity and action, that’s why we hope this partnership is the start of a bigger movement.”

Google said users in countries where gambling or alcohol adverts were already prohibited would see no change in their settings.

A spokesperson for the UK’s gambling lobby group, the Betting and Gaming Council, said: “We have previously urged Google and other tech platforms to provide the option to stop seeing gambling adverts. We welcome this step in the right direction and hope to see it launch in the UK very soon.”

UK betting firms agreed to stop showing television adverts during live sports matches last year, amid concern that children and vulnerable people were being bombarded by gambling commercials.

Figures from 2017 suggest the vast majority of gambling advertising has moved online, with only £234m of the industry’s £1.5bn marketing budget allocated to TV.

The control, available in users’ Google Ad Settings.

It’s unclear what the overall impact will be — users will need to know about and proactively seek out these controls. But this is a good move for users, Google, and the alcohol and gambling industries. For marketers in these sectors, the business impact is likely to be minimal and may even improve performance by limiting exposure to users who expressly opt out.

The new controls do not impact Google’s existing policies around alcohol and gambling advertising.

The setting is also reversible for users who suddenly feel their lives empty and without meaning without a regular dose of betting and hooch come-ons. Google worked with an international responsible drinking group on the blocking policy, while choosing to include gambling “as an additional option.”

The new options don’t reflect any other change in Google’s existing policies regarding gambling advertising, which have been trending in a more liberal direction in some markets undergoing gambling expansion, including the US.

Google’s longstanding anti-gambling policy began to crumble in mid-2017, when real-money gambling apps were finally allowed into the Google Play marketplace in a handful of markets where such activity was legal.