YouTube’s Whac-a-Mole Approach to Crypto Scam Ads Remains a Problem

YouTube’s Whac-a-Mole Approach to Crypto Scam Ads Remains a Problem

(YouTube screenshot/modified by CoinDesk)

YouTube has long struggled with disinformation, misleading content and on its site. Despite lawsuits and Google’s own ad policies, cryptocurrency scam ads are still making it through the gates and circulating for days. 

In April the CEO of Ripple, Brad Garlinghouse, against YouTube, alleging the company’s inaction against fraudulent content on its platform has damaged Ripple’s reputation by not curbing scam “giveaways” of . 

According to the complaint, in one instance a scammer stole $15,000 worth of XPR from a victim. 

Garlinghouse is not alone. Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is YouTube and its parent Google for allegedly “allowing giveaway scams that use his likeness to thrive on its platform,” CoinDesk when the lawsuit was filed this summer. 

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Despite these lawsuits, scam ads are still circulating. Scammy ads featuring Ethereum founder Vitalik Buterin offering an giveaway were showing up on authentic crypto channels like (250,000 subscribers) and(20,000 subscribers) just a couple of weeks ago. One user (who asked to remain anonymous) said this ad was reported to YouTube, but there was no quick action by the platform.

In the early days of YouTube, there was a plethora of pirated content that drove its growth, said Adam Helfgott, CEO of the programmatic advertising firm MadHive. 

“This is somewhat analogous to that situation,” said Helfgott in a phone call. “The more you start limiting a platform or content on a platform, when you don’t really know if something is good or bad but you have reason to suspect it’s one or the other, users will start to rebel and then you won’t have massive growth.”

In July, YouTube moved to dismiss the Ripple lawsuit, relying on Section 230 protections, which protect companies from content liability. 

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“YouTube’s motion to dismiss the allegations boils down to the idea that the video-sharing giant did not willingly or knowingly engage in any of the scams or copyright infringement, and cannot be held liable for any third-party content on its website,” at the time. “The firm’s motion also adds that it shut down such scams whenever it was alerted to them.”

The part that’s still an open question is how much money YouTube – and its parent company – makes from scam ads, even on the margins, and the effectiveness of the mechanisms in place for removing them.

“Protecting users from ad scams and fraud is a key priority,” said a Google spokesperson in response to CoinDesk’s query about the YouTube ad. “We have robust policies prohibiting ads that attempt to circumvent our enforcement by disguising the advertiser’s identity and impersonating other brands. In this case, we quickly removed the ad and suspended the advertiser account.”

The ad, which has since been taken down, ran from Aug. 12 to Aug. 17, according to Google.

Google has that lay out what kind of ads can run on its platforms, including YouTube. Under these policies, advertisers are not allowed to run ads, content or destinations that attempt to trick or circumvent the ad review processes, according to Google. Due to the complex and evolving nature of cryptocurrencies and their related products and services, Google only allows a limited set of advertisements for regulated exchanges in the United States and Japan. 

Yet, the scam ads persist. 

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