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Rovio blocks "disturbing" pro-Israel ad found in Angry Birds and other games

Israeli government says advertisers were told not to serve ad to "people under 18".

Rovio logo on a white background.
Image credit: Rovio

Developer Rovio has said it is now blocking a "disturbing" pro-Israel ad featuring graphic content after a Reuters report highlighted its discovery in Angry Birds and a number of other family orientated games.

According to Reuters, the pro-Israel ad - created by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs as part of an "advocacy drive" amid the continuing Israel-Hamas war - featured images of Hamas militants, rocket attacks, terrified Israeli families, explosions, and blurred graphic footage, culminating in the message, "We will make sure that those who harm us pay a heavy price."

Speaking to Reuters, an Israeli government official confirmed the ads were part of a $1.5m USD campaign but insisted advertisers had been instructed to block the advert "for people under 18". Despite these instructions, Reuters said it had documented six cases – in Britain, France, Austria, Germany, and Holland – where the adverts had been served in games for children or families.

In one instance, the advertisement had been seen by a six-year-old boy while playing Angry Birds, and Reuters reports it was also served to users, including children, of a number of other games: Alice's Mergeland, Stack, Balls'n Ropes, Subway Surfers, and Solitaire: Card Game 2023.

Angry Birds developer Rovio confirmed the advert had been shown to its players in a statement provided to Reuters. "Somehow these ads with disturbing content have in error made it through to our game", it wrote, but the Sega-owned company would not identify which of its "dozen or so" partners had placed the advert.

In a message on social media, Rovio said, "We work hard to make our games fun and safe to play. Remember, if you ever see ads that you deem inappropriate, please report the ad through the in-game player support functionality, so we can track to see where the error happened."

Reuters says it was unable to determine which advertisers were serving the advert to Angry Birds and other games, despite contacting 43 firms listed as Rovio's third-party data providers, and contacting ad companies the Israeli government confirmed it had spent money with.

The Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs' head of digital, David Saranga, told Reuters he had "no idea" how the advert had ended up inside various games, but defended the graphic nature of the campaign, saying, "We want the world to understand that what happened here in Israel," he said. "It's a massacre."

As hostilities between Israeli armed forces and Hamas continue, and civilian casualties rise, an increasing number of companies across the games industry - including Sony, InnerSloth, and Devolver - have made donations to support humanitarian efforts in the region. An Games For Gaza bundle, raising funds for the Medical Aid For Palestinians organisation, has so far amassed $272,358 in donations.

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