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Googling climate change? You might see fossil fuel ads

Googling climate change? You might see fossil fuel ads

Fossil fuel companies are big spenders for ads that mimic search results, new analysis says

Fossil fuel companies and their close allies are some of the top spenders on Google ads that look similar to search results, according to a new analysis by The Guardian and climate think tank InfluenceMap.

The two groups searched for 78 terms related to climate change on Google and then looked at the ads that popped up on the platform. Of more than 1,600 ads, over one in five were from companies “with significant interests in fossil fuels.” The top twenty advertisers included fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil, Shell, and Aramco. Consulting firm McKinsey and investment firm Goldman Sachs, which have been criticized for working with fossil fuel companies, were also big spenders.

“Google is letting groups with a vested interest in the continued use of fossil fuels pay to influence the resources people receive when they are trying to educate themselves,” InfluenceMap senior data analyst Jake Carbone told The Guardian.

The ads they analyzed mimic the look of typical search results and often appear at the top of the page. One survey conducted in 2020 found that 58 percent of people don’t know the difference between those ads and regular links. As a result, Google searches might funnel unsuspecting users to content from groups with a vested interest in promoting the fossil fuels responsible for the climate crisis.

Many of the ads portray fossil fuel companies as going green, like an ad from Shell that says it’s “a willing and able player in the energy transition.” Another ad from BP says it is “Building and advocating for more renewable capacity & infrastructure.”

The Guardian and InfluenceMap study found 153 ads from Shell that showed up on 86 percent of searches for the term “net zero.” The Verge searched for “net zero” on Google this morning and found an ad at the top of the page from oil and gas company BP.

New analysis spots "greenwashing" in Google ads.