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Cabinet Office and major brands pull ads from YouTube

17 Mar 2017  |  Ellen Hammett 
Cabinet Office and major brands pull ads from YouTube

Following revelations that their ads have been appearing alongside extremist videos, the Cabinet Office, the Guardian, L’Oreal, TfL and the FCA have suspended their advertising campaigns from YouTube.

According to a report in The Times, Google is to be summoned before the government to explain why ads have been running alongside inappropriate video content - including terrorist propaganda, banned hate preachers and rape apologists.

A government spokeswoman told The Times that Google has been “summoned for discussions at the Cabinet Office to explain how it will deliver the high quality of service that government demands on behalf of the taxpayer.

“Google is responsible for ensuring that the high standards applied to government advertising are adhered to and that adverts do not appear alongside inappropriate content."

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Guardian News & Media said: “It is completely unacceptable that Google allows advertising for brands like The Guardian to appear next to extremist and hate-filled videos.

“We have stopped all advertising through Google with immediate effect until we receive guarantees that this won’t happen in the future.”

In February, an investigation by The Times found that major global advertisers had been having their ads programmatically placed on what should be blacklisted websites.

The Times suggests the misplaced advertising is generating "tens of thousands of pounds a month for extremists" and blamed ad agencies for "pushing brands into online advertising to boost their own profits."

In a blog post published on Friday morning, Google's UK MD, Ronan Harris, said Google "can do a better job" to address inappropriately monetised videos and content.

"We’ve begun a thorough review of our ads policies and brand controls, and we will be making changes in the coming weeks to give brands more control over where their ads appear across YouTube and the Google Display Network," Harris said.

"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."

The news comes after the Guardian's chief revenue officer, Hamish Nicklin, revealed last week that despite a host of measures to prevent so-called 'bad ads' making it on to the publisher's website, dodgy players were finding sneaky workarounds.

In February a questionable-looking ad featuring Dragons' Den star Deborah Meaden with a black eye - that, when clicked, actually sold sex toys - appeared alongside the Guardian's premium content, leaving staff - and readers - exasperated as to how it got there.

Nicklin said it took a week to track down the origins of the ad (pictured below) and found it came via Google Adwords - slipping through any blocks put in place by Google's advertising service.

"I have spent a huge amount of time in the last week chasing down the source of a particular ad for which we had lots and lots of complaints about from our readers - and quite understandably: when you clicked on what looked like [a tabloid-style news story] you went to a website that sold Viagra, sex toys and porn.

"None of that should ever have got through to the Guardian's website... but it's so easy to game the system," he told a room packed with advertisers and senior media execs.

Nicklin said the Google Adwords platform meant "just about anyone who wants to can put an ad out", and these ads can easily be manipulated with changes to the code that will see them pass through most systems - Google's and the Guardian's included.

"Therefore there is a massive responsibility not just on Google, but on all adtech companies to help fix this," he said.

Nicklin, who spent ten years working at Google before joining the Guardian last year, also warned that if these - and other issues such as ad fraud and brand safety - could not be remedied quickly then the industry could face government regulation.

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