Google bans all ads for medical face masks amid coronavirus outbreak

Key Points
  • Google said it will no longer allow any ads for medical face masks. 
  • The company already had a policy prohibiting ad content that capitalizes off the coronavirus.
  • Facebook on Friday said it is temporarily banning ads and commerce listings selling medical face masks.
A man walks with a face mask, after further cases of coronavirus were confirmed in New York, at JFK International Airport in New York, U.S., March 5, 2020.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters

Google is temporarily banning ads for medical face masks, which have proliferated online as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads. 

"Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to temporarily ban all medical face mask ads," a Google spokeswoman said in an email to CNBC. "We're actively monitoring the situation and will continue to take action as needed to protect users."

The restriction only applies to face masks for now, and does not apply to ads for other products that could protect against the outbreak, like hazmat suits and sanitizers, which have also proliferated in recent weeks. Google said it is "continuing to evaluate" whether the ban should apply to other products, and said will take a "few days" to take down existing mask ads, meaning users are likely to still see them in the coming days. 

The latest policy change comes as Google addresses misinformation on its platforms in the wake of the quicklyspreading COVID-19 virus, which has killed more than 4,200 people and infected at least 118,000 people around the world.

Medical experts have tried to warn against healthy people buying masks so it doesn't create an equipment shortage for medical workers. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said there is no evidence to support wearing masks.

Last week, CNBC reported Google was showing ads and sponsored shopping listings for products explicitly promising to prevent coronavirus, even though it has a policy that prohibits ad content that capitalizes off the outbreak. The company said the new face mask ban is broader, and applies to products even if they don't specifically mention the virus. That includes Google's "shopping" listings, which the company says are "based on a combination of advertiser bids and relevance, such as your current search terms and your activity." 

Google follows Facebook, which on Friday said it is temporarily banning ads and commerce listings selling medical face masks.

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