It matters not whether a payday lender or a dog groomer, morally policing advertising is a dangerous precedent

Elliott Haworth
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This is not a defence of payday lenders; although the policy will likely push those in need to less regulated, bad actors. (Source: Getty)
ne of the many perks of living in a democratic capitalist society is the laissez faire relationship between (legitimate, legal) business and government.

But questions must be asked when giants step on smaller businesses. Especially when based on the moral posturing of a cabal of pious zealots.

Such is the case with Google, who in the six months following July last year, disabled “more than 5m payday loan ads” and “took action on 8,000 sites promoting payday loans” because they “often result in unaffordable payments and high default rates for users.” It would appear Google has grown a conscience.

Banning adverts for dodgy viagra, misleading get rich (or slim) quick schemes, illegal gambling sites and the like is a mostly sensible attempt at something akin to protecting consumers through self-regulation. But banning perfectly legitimate, legal businesses from promoting their services is an impediment to liberty that stifles competition.

Facebook has a similar policy, born from the so-called Coalition for Better Ads. Between the search and social giants, a duopoly exists: they collectively account for over 75 per cent of the digital advertising market, which only makes this position more egregious and untenable.

When advertisers are so reliant on the channels provided by the duopoly, an authoritarian stranglehold on the distribution of information exists. Advertisers are trapped in their digital walled-gardens if they want an efficient way of reaching consumers.

This is not a defence of payday lenders; although the policy will likely push those in need to less regulated, bad actors. It’s one of net neutrality, free speech, and healthy competition in a free market. Impeding the ability for legitimate businesses to ply their trade can never be justified.

Consumers should have access to all content and applications regardless of the source, based on the laws and regulations of nation states on a pro rata basis. The internet is meant to express the free flow of ideas and enhance commerce, not impede it.

A debate about commercial free speech is overdue – the benefits to consumers, the economy, and society really can’t be understated. Legitimate companies need equal opportunity to compete in a free market.

We’re not living under Isis; we don’t need Morality Police dictating our decisions. It’s patronising. You will never please the luvvie anti-capitalists who press for such bans. Where does it end? Like a butterfly effect, succumbing to the desires of the loud minority will only further legitimise such illiberal restrictions.

Elliott Haworth is business features writer at City A.M.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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