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The (Almost) Silent Bombshell Canada Dropped on Google

Posted by Steve Cameron
Steve Cameron
Steve Cameron is the Director Owner of Advent Communication. With more than 25 years experience he has a deep...
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on Saturday, 18 January 2014 in Google

One of our clients has a cancer facility. In Canada.

We have been running some effective remarketing campaigns for them for a couple of years based on a simple combination list of All Visitors less Converted Visitors - we have also been running an RLSA campaign and a campaign to the "Similar to" lists - pretty standard stuff.

Yesterday our lists got disapproved and closed. Not the ads, not the campaigns - the lists themselves. The messages on the campaigns referred to the fact that the lists could not be used.

Straight on the phone to Google. I won't go into the details of the conversation - the bottom line is the rep didn't really know why the lists had been closed, but she called me back a couple of hours later to tell me that this was because we can no longer use remarketing lists for medical services.

That was as incomplete and unsatisfactory an answer as I have ever had from Google so I turned to one of the Top Contributors on the Google Community Forum. He's an expert when it comes to policy. He knows more than Google themselves.

Two clues, he told me - medical facility and Canada.

Canada?

Yep - Canada.

Here's what has just happened....

Canada's Privacy Commissioner has reached a ruling that Google's Remarketing platform violates Privacy Laws by using sensitive information. Things such as health, race, religion or sexual orientation are considered "sensitive" - and, of course, they are. So Google's response has been to close remarketing lists where membership of the list implies - in our case - a medical condition - and where members of the list are in Canada.

The implications of this are wide reaching.

If you run a site for a Church and want to remarket you wouldn't be able to.

A gay friendly vacation resort would not be able to remarket.

A plastic surgeon would not be able to remarket surgical procedures.

Presently, this is affecting remarketing lists where Canada is implicated. It is unclear as to whether this is because our client is in Canada or because some of the people in the remarketing audiences are in Canada, we still need to clarify this - but there is every possibility that this is to be rolled out Google wide  with massive implications.

Has anyone else seen remarketing lists closed for similar policy violations - we'd love to hear from you to see how wide the net is being cast.

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Martin Roettgerding Sunday, 19 January 2014

Hi Steve,
We saw something similar for a pharmacy in Germany: Lists where disapproved on Jan 4th. However, we're used to Google's strange behavior towards pharmacies by now. Since they had to pay a hefty fine after advertising medical tourism between Canada and the US, Google somehow lost the ability to handle medical topics in a professional manner. There are many things that can get you in trouble, but it's usually very hard to get an explanation what the problem is. More than once we had people giving us advice full of disclaimers because they didn't know why their system did what it did and couldn't tell us what was OK and what wasn't.

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