October 30 (Reuters) – Maria Julia Assis was having dinner in her north London house when her pale-faced 6-year-old son ran in.
A video of Hamas fighters scared Israeli families, and blurred, violent footage had cut in and out of his puzzle game on his Android phone. It was a message from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs that said, “THOSE WHO HARM US WILL PAY A HEAVY PRICE.” It was shown on a black screen.
Maria Julia Assis Explain Games Ads Deleted.
A bartender from Brazil named Assis, who is 28 years old, said that the ad scared her son, so she deleted the game right away.
“He was shocked,” she said last week over the phone. “He literally said, ‘What is this bloody ad doing in my game?'”
Reuters has yet to be able to figure out how the ad got into her son’s video game, but they’re not the only ones. The news agency found that the same pro-Israel video, which showed rocket attacks, an explosion, and masked shooters, was shown to gamers, some of whom were children, at least five other times in Europe.
Which Games are Running ads?
It happened at least once while the ads were playing in the famous “Angry Birds” game by Rovio (ROVIO.HE), which SEGA owns.
However, Rovio stated that “somehow these ads with disturbing content have in error made it through to our game” and that they were now being blocked by hand. A lot of Backlund, a spokesperson, wouldn’t say which of its “dozen or so ad partners” had given it the ad.
David Saranga, who is in charge of digital for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, admitted that the video was an ad for the government but said he had “no idea” how it got into different games.
He said the video was part of a bigger effort by the Israeli Foreign Ministry to get people to support Israel. Since Hamas’ attack on civilians in southern Israel on October 7 started the war in Gaza, the ministry has spent $1.5 million on internet ads. He said that officials had told advertisers very clearly “to block it for people under 18.”
Saranga said that the graphic nature of the ads was okay.
“We want the world to understand that what happened here in Israel,” he stated. “It’s a massacre.”
CNN of Explain!
CNN talked to 43 advertising firms that Rovio named on its website as “third-party data partners” to find out who put the ad in the games.
Twelve of those partners replied, and Amazon (AMZN.O), Index Exchange, and Pinterest (PINS.N) were among them. They said they were not responsible for the ad showing up on Angry Birds.
Saranga said the government had paid ad companies like Outbrain (OB.O), Taboola (TBLA.O), Alphabet (GOOGL.O), Google, and X, which used to be called Twitter. Both Outbrain and Taboola said they had nothing to do with the game ads.
Google showed more than 90 ads for the foreign ministry, but they wouldn’t say where they were shown. X, which used to be called Twitter, didn’t answer when asked for a response.
Reuters didn’t find any similar digital advertising by the Palestinians. The only videos they found were in Arabic and were pushed by Palestine TV, a news agency based in the West Bank that is connected to the Palestinian Authority.
In a statement, a representative from the Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry said that the ministry was trying to change people’s minds by showing proof of the suffering in Gaza caused by the Israeli bombardment after the October 7 attack. However, the representative did not say if the ministry was using advertising as a tool.
Reuters asked Hamas, the Islamist group that runs Gaza, for comment on its media efforts, but no one from the group responded.
Six people in Britain, France, Austria, Germany, and the Netherlands told Reuters that they had seen the same or similar ads as Assis’ son or that their children had seen them. These ads showed up in a game called “Alice’s Mergeland” by a company called LazyDog Game. They were for the Assis family. Besides “Stack,” there were ads for “Solitaire: Card Game 2023,” “Balls’n Ropes,” “Stack,” and the run-and-jump adventure “Subway Surfers.”
During her game of Solitaire, 24-year-old worker Alexandra Marginean said she was shocked to see the pro-Israel video appear.
As a result, Marginean said, “I became very angry.”
LazyDog Game did not answer when asked for a response. The Turkish developer of Balls’n Ropes (Rollic) and the Danish developer of Subway Surfers (SYBO Games) did not respond to messages asking them to comment on the ads. Ketchapp, which is owned by Ubisoft (UBIP.PA), is the creator of Stack.
Both Apple (AAPL.O) and Alphabet’s (GOOGL.O) Google, which police the apps on their software systems for iPhones and Android phones, told us to ask the game developers.
Different countries have different rules about ads. In Britain, where Assis and her son live, the Advertising Standards Authority is in charge of keeping an eye on advertising efforts. While not looking into any ads from the Israeli government at the moment, the authority said that, in general, any ads with graphic images should be “carefully targeted away from under-18s.”
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