Following feedback which Google received regarding people’s preferences to see fewer alcohol promotions, the Tech Giant has released a new control in Ad Settings. With the new feature people can click a button to choose to see “fewer” alcohol and gambling advertisements.
The new option is set to roll out gradually starting with YouTube Ads in the United States. The aim is to introduce the new feature for Google Ads and YouTube globally in early 2021. The change will not affect the existing controls which are set by countries with legal restrictions against alcohol and gambling advertisements.
Google has worked with Big Alcohol lobby front group International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) for the new initiative.
While the new controls give users more power in deciding what they see, the move solely relies on and shifts the focus to individual responsibility of consumers – a tactic often employed by Big Alcohol.
It’s a move that looks good in corporate social responsibility brochures but it does not address systemic problem with online alcohol promotions, especially in countries where alcohol advertising is banned.
If Google so desires they can go beyond the individual responsibility fig leaf and eliminate advertising for harmful products.
Additionally, greater individual control over alcohol advertising on Google platforms should not be allowed to diminish population-level action to ban alcohol advertising, promotions and sponsorship, and other advertising of harmful products – as recommended by the World Health Organization’s evidence-based best buy measures and the SAFER initiative to prevent and reduce population level alcohol harm.
Public health is not the priority of either tech or alcohol industry giants. The IARD President and CEO made a comment on their partnership with Google, that they “hope this partnership is the start of a bigger movement.” But there is no need for more CSR activity. There is an urgent need for government action to ban alcohol ads and other promotions, including in the digital world.
As science has amply proven alcohol industry CSR bodies such as IARD are adept at making the science about alcohol harm murky, ignoring health harms of alcohol and solely focusing on individual responsibility. Governments should watch out for any alcohol industry attempts to use these new individual advertising controls to derail or delay statutory alcohol marketing regulations.