Home Ad Exchange News With Dread, Advertisers Report A Wave Of Mistaken Google Account Suspensions And AI Miscues

With Dread, Advertisers Report A Wave Of Mistaken Google Account Suspensions And AI Miscues

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Comic: "I'm afraid I can't do that, Dave."

In the past week or so, numerous Google advertiser accounts have been suspended for the first time, and erroneous suspensions and other account issues have increased at an alarming rate, five agency buyers told AdExchanger.

Though there was no consistent reason given for the suspensions, all five ad buyers who cited the issue speculated that the uptick was spurred by twin effects. First, the recent mass layoffs to customer service roles and, second, Google’s increased reliance on machine learning-based systems to flag accounts, which were previously vetted by a human.

“Google keeps its exact policy procedure resources relatively private and set apart from the external advertiser, so it’s difficult for us outside the system to determine what is happening here,” Kirk Williams, who owns paid search consultancy ZATO Marketing, told AdExchanger. “That being said, we’ve noticed that suspensions have gotten more aggressive lately, often without much warning.”

Two other agency buyers, who chose to speak on background, said they each had three clients’ accounts suspended this week.

It’s not a widespread outage, and the accounts were reinstated later in the day, but both agency execs separately said that in years of managing hundreds Google accounts, they’d never had an account suspended until these instances, which all occurred overnight on the same day.

“From time to time, over-flagging may occur for a variety of reasons,” a Google spokesperson told AdExchanger in a written response. “No system is perfect, which is why advertisers always have the opportunity to appeal a decision. We are always willing to reverse ourselves when an error is made, as we did in these circumstances.”

It’s just a few accounts?

There is necessary context to explain the high anxiety advertisers and agency execs have about Google account issues, when seemingly only a small number of accounts were affected and most were reinstated within a day.

First of all, this isn’t happening in a vacuum.

Over the past couple years, Amazon and Meta have had major issues with account suspensions and reviews. An Amazon ad consultant pleaded guilty this week to bribing employees to get client accounts reinstated and manipulate reviews and orders to get competitive accounts suspended. And last year, AdExchanger uncovered a fraud scheme involving Meta ad consultants who had paid or pressed employees to reinstate clients’ accounts or unsuspend campaigns.

That’s been the scene-setter for the past week or so, as more and more Google advertisers logged into their accounts and saw warnings about being flagged or suspended for inexplicable reasons.

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Advertisers have seen multi-million-dollar black markets built on bribes to Facebook and Amazon employees, and not for secret data or more traffic. Those fraud schemes developed because merchants and advertisers needed customer service tickets addressed.

One agency buyer told me their usual customer service rep was let go, as was his replacement, in a more recent layoff. It took the better part of a day to escalate the issue to a human. That employee immediately recognized that the automated service system’s reason for the suspension – suspicious payment activity – was inaccurate and reinstated the account.

A merchant account was suspended for suspicious pricing activity, which turned out to be the Google AI pulling numbers from the wrong places on the site. Another account was suspended because location data was used improperly to geofence areas, but no such data was used. Accounts were flagged as bot operators when that clearly wasn’t the case.

One agency buyer said an account verification link sent by Google’s customer service system expired before the agency could sync with the brand to confirm it. That was over a week ago, and the advertiser hasn’t been to log in since or have the issue addressed by a human.

The recent Google account issues have been isolated to small advertisers and ecommerce merchants. Larger advertisers have high-touch service and wouldn’t have these surprise problems or be unable to reach a Google employee to field the issue.

But for platforms with millions of advertisers, a trickle of pebbles can quickly become a landslide.

The wrench in machine learning

Google announced this week that its AI verification system removed more than 5 billion ads and suspended more than 6.7 million accounts last year, a major increase from 2021.

Yesterday, Meta debuted new in-feed brand safety controls that rely on its platform machine learning, not people, to identify issues. “AI is one of the driving forces behind these industry-leading solutions,” according to the blog post.

More machine learning-based products may be a net benefit for advertisers, but the rollout of these products should be accompanied by an increase in human customer service, Williams said, to explain to clients how these products work and respond when there are issues the AI system can’t field.

Instead, the expansion of machine learning tech justifies large layoffs.

“Agencies have to rethink the value prop to clients,” said one buyer who’s dealt with customer service and account reinstatements this week. “Because part of that now is going to be that we babysit the AI for quality control and ad serving.”

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