Google is ‘actively looking’ at how it can use blockchain technology, its head of advertising says

Google is looking at whether it can incorporate blockchain technology, its most senior advertising executive said Wednesday.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's senior vice president of ads and commerce, said the company was researching the technology, but had no official product announcements to make.

"This is a research topic, so I don't have anything super-definitive to say. We have a small team that is looking at it. The core blockchain technology is not something that is super-scalable in terms of the sheer number of transactions it can run," he told an audience at the Advertising Week Europe conference in London, as part of a question-and-answer session on Wednesday.

Ramaswamy added that the "frictionless" nature of the technology has applications in money transfer. "The promise of blockchain of course is twofold: one is friction-free value transfer, you can think of it as money transfer working at scale with no friction and that can have an amazing effect on society, because it's hard to move money. It always costs 2ish percent in most Western countries to move money," he said.

"I think there is a lot of promise in things like that. Blockchain as a recording technology also has promise. It is super early for us to say whether they are going to become products just yet. We are actively looking at it. We don't have really any product announcements to make on this front."

Google's parent company Alphabet is one of the most active investors in blockchain companies, according to a report published by CB Insights in October. It has investments in the Blockchain company itself, as well as in Ripple, a company that is working on money transfers using blockchain technology.

Ramaswamy's comments come as advertising agency Truth announced it had run a programmatic media campaign enabled by blockchain, working with The Guardian newspaper, demand-side platform Avocet and ad tech company Sonobi.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's SVP ads and commerce (left) with Matt Brittin, its president, business and operations EMEA
Ben Wilson Photography | Advertising Week Europe
Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google's SVP ads and commerce (left) with Matt Brittin, its president, business and operations EMEA

"We deploy(ed) a legally-binding contract to the blockchain that records all the fees, all of the suppliers that are allowed to be involved in this chain of events," said Oliver Southgate, the agency's chief technology officer, speaking at Advertising Week Europe on Tuesday.

Southgate claimed that this is the first time blockchain had been used in a programmatically-bought ad campaign and that benefits include being able to see in near real-time whether advertising had been placed correctly. Fraud in digital advertising has been in the spotlight recently, because of the possibility that campaigns are seen or clicked on by bots rather than humans, and for being placed next to inappropriate content.

Southgate said that advertisers would be able to see within 24 hours whether their ads had been placed correctly, rather than having to wait for media audits that can take months. He added that the agency's technology was at an early stage.

Blockchain is a new foundational technology that allows businesses to simplify processes such as auditing. Cryptocurrency bitcoin is an application that is built on blockchain technology, similar to how email was the breakthrough application that was built on the internet.

Additional reporting by Arjun Kharpal.