Google has issued an apology to advertisers following big name brands announcing they would no longer advertise on YouTube due to concerns their ads were being shown alongside extremist content.
Companies’ adverts were unwittingly being displayed on YouTube channels that published content from hate preachers, anti-semites and rape apologists.
HSBC, L’Oréal, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland and Marks & Spencer are just a handful of brands to have turned their backs on YouTube.
Google, which bought YouTube in 2006, has apologised to advertisers and vowed to do more to tackle the problem.
Google EMEA president Matt Brittin said: “When anything like that happens, we don’t want it to happen and you don’t want it to happen, and we take responsibility for it.
“Our team has spoken to some brands that have been affected and some brands that are concerned. Having spoken to many advertisers what we’ve found is that the problem is with a handful of them and has involved pennies, not pounds. But, however big or small the problem is, we need to do better.”
Google’s policies and tools work well in the vast majority of cases, according to Brittin, who explained that the company has invested millions of dollars in, and has thousands of people working on, ensuring everything runs as it should. Google has a review under way regarding how it can improve, which it has promised to expedite.
Brittin said: “There are three key areas that we’re focused on. The first is our policies. Within YouTube, within the Google display network, what do we categorise as being safe for advertising? We’re reviewing those policies and we’re raising the bar. That involves looking at things like how we define hate speech or inflammatory content. How can we define those things more clearly so it’s safe for everyone? And that’s not straightforward. So you may ask why don’t we just rule out commentary on politics or war but actually, in many cases, news organisations and documentary makers are reaching audiences and making money from that content quite legitimately. So we want to be thoughtful about how we do that.
“Secondly, we found that in some cases advertisers had the controls but weren’t fully using them. The controls are quite granular so within what’s classified as being safe for advertising you choose and control what you’re appearing against. If the controls are there but they’re too complex then that’s our problem, so we’re simplifying the controls to make it easier for people to control what they’re doing. We’re also looking at setting the defaults to a higher level of safety.
“The third thing is enforcement. We’ve got a lot of money and people invested in this. Within 24 hours, 98% of flagged content is reviewed. We can go further and faster and expedite things in that respect.
“All of this in the context of 400 hours of content uploaded to YouTube every minute, thousands of sites added to our AdSense netowrk every day.”
Last year, YouTube took 300 million videos out of ad monetisation because they were deemed inappropriate for advertising, and hundreds of thousands of websites were taken out of the AdSense network.
Brittin feels that the fact that anyone with a smartphone can be a content creator, an entrepenuer or an app developer has its pros and cons.
“It’s wonderful and also shows you the scale of the opportunity for advertisers, as well as the challenge that we have to manage. We want to make the Internet a safe space for brand builders.”
An official Google statement on the matter read: “We’ve heard from our advertisers and agencies loud and clear that we can provide simpler, more robust ways to stop their ads from showing against controversial content. While we have a wide variety of tools to give advertisers and agencies control over where their ads appear, such as topic exclusions and site category exclusions, we can do a better job of addressing the small number of inappropriately monetised videos and content.
“We are committed to working with publishers, advertisers and agencies to address these issues and earn their trust every day so that they can use our services both successfully and safely.”