LONDON — Google has been summoned to appear in front of the UK government to explain why taxpayer-funded ads are appearing next to extremist content on YouTube, The Times reported.
The Times found government ads — and also those from the BBC, The Royal Air Force, and The Royal Navy — appearing next to videos from American white nationalist David Duke, a pastor who praised the killing of 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub, and videos from Michael Savage, who the newspaper describes as a “homophobic shock-jock.”
The issue is not only the juxtaposition of government ads next to inappropriate content, but the fact that those ads are making money for the video creators. The Times says a YouTube user earns $7.60 on average for every 1,000 times an ad is viewed.
On Thursday, the government suspended all of its YouTube advertising until Google can make assurances that ads from public-funded bodies would not appear in unsafe environments.
A government spokesperson sent Business Insider this statement:
“Digital advertising is a cost-effective way for the government to engage millions of people in vital campaigns such as military recruitment and blood donation.
“Google is responsible for ensuring the high standards applied to government advertising are adhered to and that adverts do not appear alongside inappropriate content.
“We have placed a temporary restriction on our YouTube advertising pending reassurances from Google that government messages can be delivered in a safe and appropriate way.
“Google has been summoned for discussions at the Cabinet Office to explain how it will deliver the high quality of service government demands on behalf of the taxpayer.”
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The government joins a growing number of brands suspending their advertising from YouTube — and in some cases all of Google’s advertising services — after they found their brands were unwittingly appearing next to inappropriate content.
On Thursday, The Guardian announced it was boycotting Google and YouTube advertising until the internet giant can guarantee ads will only appear in safe environments. L’Oreal, The Financial Conduct Authority, Transport for London, and Channel 4 are also removing their ads from Google services, The Times reported.
In a statement provided to Business Insider on Thursday, following the Guardian pulling its ads, Google said it has “strict guidelines” that define where ads should appear and in the majority of cases, those policies work as intended.
“We accept that we don’t always get it right, and that sometimes, ads appear where they should not. We’re committed to doing better, and will make changes to our policies and brand controls for advertisers,” the statement continued.
ISBA, the trade body that represents British advertisers said “more needs to be done urgently” to safeguard the reputations of advertisers on digital sites.
Phil Smith, ISBA director general, said in a statement: “The practice of placing advertising immediately against newly-uploaded content, before it has been classified, should be reviewed. Content should be quarantined until classified, to give advertisers confidence that their brands’ reputations will be protected.”
When brands pay for online ad campaigns, they usually do not buy each ad placement individually. Instead they use a method called programmatic that uses automated systems to target large audiences across a swathe of websites — or different YouTube videos. Programmatic advertising is seen as an efficient way to reach specific audiences online, but it can also carry a brand safety risk, with some ads inadvertently appearing next to undesirable content if proper whitelists, blacklists, and other safety checks are not put in place by both the ad platform and the ad buyer.