How a loophole let Google run ads alongside blocked Russian publishers

Google has blocked state-owned Russian media from monetizing via ads. But articles from those publishers have been appearing on, a popular Russian media platform.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photos:

· 4 min read

Despite Google blocking “Russian state-funded media” from advertising revenue, a loophole involving a popular Russian media platform caused US advertisers to run ads alongside stories from those same publishers, including stories calling the massacre of Ukrainian civilians by Russian soldiers in the city of Bucha fake.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Google announced that it had blocked what it called Russian “state-owned media outlets,” including RT, TASS, and RIA Novosti, from making money via ads. But stories from those publishers were still running this month on the popular Russian media platform,, which is partially monetized by Google’s advertising services.

  • is one of the most popular websites in the world, according to Similarweb, with roughly a billion total visits per month.
  • It hosts a news platform with a homepage that resembles Yahoo or MSN, where headlines and news articles are shared.

What we saw: A story about the Ukrainian army shelling residential buildings ran alongside an ad for United Airlines. A story claiming that Russian forces have only attacked military infrastructure and Ukrainian troops above a Marriott Bonvoy ad.

  • Other advertisers seen by Marketing Brew include Frontier Airlines, StockX, Shinola, and Fiverr.
  • “This ad placement was unintentional. These ads are not targeted to specific websites, but rather we work through a third-party aggregator that optimizes our placements to reach the intended audiences. As part of the program, we do have exclusions so ads don’t appear in unintended places. We are currently investigating how our ad appeared in tandem with the content you’ve identified and appreciate that it was flagged,” Frontier spokesperson Jennifer de La Cruz told Marketing Brew over email.
  • Fiverr told Marketing Brew over email that it has “reached out to our advertising partners to have the ads removed.” Others did not respond to our requests for comment.

Despite Google preventing these publishers from running ads on their own sites, their content was still being monetized on, though Marketing Brew doesn’t know where that revenue went. Petr Komarevtsev, VK’s press secretary, declined to comment when contacted by Marketing Brew.

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The loophole was first noticed by ad-fraud researcher, Braedon Vickers, in March.

Google told Marketing Brew that it has demonetized, and Google ads stopped appearing as of April 18. But is still running this content while running ads in other sections, like on a story about Timothée Chalamet at Coachella, which ran alongside a Peacock advertisement.

“Whether those ads are on the articles or not, the money is going to the same place,” Vickers told Marketing Brew, explaining that even if the articles are no longer being monetized, ads are still running elsewhere on a platform that is “publishing this type of war propaganda.”

Additionally, amid concerns about brand safety and the war in Ukraine, he pointed out that US advertisers probably didn’t want to run ads alongside content that spread disinformation in the first place.

Google spokesperson Michael Aciman said that “over the last several weeks, we’ve quickly taken numerous actions in response to the war in Ukraine, including demonetizing Russian state-funded media across our platforms. As we’ve said, this is a rapidly evolving situation, and our teams are constantly reviewing sites and have taken action on additional state-funded media publishers as we detect them.”

While that policy might help with optics, “it doesn’t do a lot to actually demonetize disinformation,” Vickers said.

In April, Business Insider reported on an Adalytics report that found that Google was continuing to serve ads on Russian, Iranian, and Syrian websites after the US imposed broad economic sanctions on these countries, “in some cases for years.”

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