The news about Google banning payday loan advertising from their their Google AdWords came as a big surprise earlier this summer. It was unusual as Google have only banned illegal or openly abusive products and services before; but never services that are actually legal in the majority of states.
Despite the fact that small cash credits known as payday loans are treated differently and there are a great deal of controversy about the entire industry, let alone the fact that the states have different (sometimes opposite) regulations with regards to it, Google came to the decision to ban such types of advertising, which resulted in disabling of about a billion ads.
As it was said, such Google’s policy is not new; but this is basically the first time when the company put their foot into the discourse around “good and evil” and, as it appears, the debates around payday loan industry, quite heated before, have become even more so lately.
For Google such a decision was justified by the idea that the entire payday loan industry is “harmful”. They are definitely backed-up and applauded by many opponents of the short-term loan concept; there are plenty of critics who finds the industry vile and only capable of making profit from the needs of low-income individuals.
However, there seems to be a great number of people who find such a step unjustified. Among them there is a number of Gadfly bloggers who find Google’s action a mere attempt to judge some actually legal business sector that they simply find inappropriate.
As any other questions about morality and profit, this debate is not a simple one. The opinions on payday loan industry have never been unanimous, now they have become even more diverse. The financial sector in question has its huge flaws (as any other, to be just), and it might pretty fairly be accused of imposing impossible interest rates on borrowers as well as lenders having huge consequential profits; however, it is just about the only credit option for a considerable group of low-income individuals with no access to credit market. And this fact should be taken into consideration.
The bloggers’ debate, however, was mostly about the line that separates censorship and capitalism practiced online. It is clear, that it hasn’t reached any consensus and, probably, never will. However, such debates are pretty symptomatic in the sense that they reveal another problem of the sort: precisely they raise the topic of actual power behind such huge and influential services as Google and Facebook (the latter banned payday loan ads a year ago). Because, these two are the most influential in terms of information exposure – and are able to choose what to show to users and what not.
Despite the fact that tv ad bans took place as early as in 1971 (cigarettes), there is a distinctive difference now. Such decisions were taken on a governmental level – or at the very least not at the level of any particular technological company, that claims to take action now at those sectors where government has no time (or will, or else) to act.
Google’s policy on this account is exactly the one – they claim that the aforementioned step serves to protect borrowers from using doubtful financial products. And despite the fact that the motives behind the action still seem a bit covert to the critical minds in public sphere, one thing is for sure – any company, Google or some other on its place, has a right to choose which ads to run, and which one not to.
Whether such decision will affect numerous payday loan business across the state, is likely, but not necessarily that much as the supporters of the industry expect to.