Google Bans Ads for Passports, Visas, IDs, and Other Government Documents & Services
Usually, no one enjoys going to the DMV to renew their driver’s license, waiting at City Hall to apply for a permit, or heading to the airport to apply for TSA Precheck. And as the general public embraces technology faster than the government, it’s no surprise that more people have been turning to Google and online services to help take this errand off their plate.
Many companies are happy to manage these applications for government documents on behalf of their customers and may even advertise their services on Google. However, Google announced that starting May 26, 2020, Google will no longer allow ads for documents and/or services that can be obtained directly from a government or a delegated provider.
Included in this new policy, Google announced it would not allow ads promoting the acquisition, renewal, replacement, or retrieval of government documents, including:
- Passports and other forms of national ID
- Visas and Electronic Travel Authorizations (ETAs)
- Driver’s licenses
- Hunting and fishing licenses
- Gun licenses and registration
- Proof of permanent residency
- Proof of immigration status/registration
- Birth, death, and marriage certificates
- Military records
Additionally, Google’s new policy prohibits ads for services in assisting people to:
- Apply for government benefits.
- Change their official name or address.
- Claim or pay money to a local government organization.
Non-egregious violations of this policy may cause their ads to be disapproved. Repeated violations will lead to account suspension (and as of September 2021, some policies will be enforced by a three-strike system. Learn about it here.)
Why is Google making this change?
Many of these companies acted as middlemen between the government and the public and many found the opportunity to make a profit off confusing government processes to get these documents and services. Google had hoped to prevent advertisers from abusing this by prohibiting the sale of free items.
However, if a service can promise (or say they promise) faster turnaround time than the government, or handle audits, or shipping—is that the same service as the government’s? What if the government changes $110 for a new passport—can this policy on free items prevent an advertiser for charging $250 for processing the application? Many of these advertisers lived in an uncomfortable gray area and would often ruffle feathers with Google policies. This new policy removes much of the previously gray area, even if it's more restrictive than Google’s earlier approach.
What’s not affected by this new policy?
Professional services and consultants that help people qualify for these services will not experience any changes, including:
- Legal services
- Immigration lawyers and consultants
- Travel agents
- Tax preparation services
- Driving classes and education
The goal of Google’s new ad policy is to prevent advertisers from charging for documents or services that a searcher could readily get directly from the government, not impact services like these.
Update (4/22/20): Microsoft also recently announced it would prohibit ads for these government services, effective May 6.