The Google policy team has finally set the record straight on the use of image next to or near Google AdSense ads. Here’s an except of the ruling from the official Google blog.
Can I place small images next to my Google ads?
We ask that publishers not line up images and ads in a way that suggests a relationship between the images and the ads. If your visitors believe that the images and the ads are directly associated, or that the advertiser is offering the exact item found in the neighboring image, they may click the ad expecting to find something that isn’t actually being offered. That’s not a good experience for users or advertisers.
Publishers should also be careful to avoid similar implementations that people could find misleading. For instance, if your site contains a directory of Flash games, you should not format the ads to mimic the game descriptions.
In the past, Google had told publishers to put a line between the images and the Google ad. Now, it appears Google is going back on that policy.
What if I place a space or a line between my images and my ads? Would that work?
No. If the ads and the images appear to be associated, inserting a small space or a line between the images and ads will not make the implementation compliant.
Google is no disallowing images next to AdSense ads. They just want to make sure that the ads and images are not arranged in a way that could easily mislead or confuse the visitors. Google posted the following two examples of implementation that will not comply with the new policy.