What do HSBC, Lloyds Bank, and the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Marks & Spencer have in common? Well they’re the latest businesses to pull their advertising from Google – a global tech giant which controls 35% of the digital advertising market.
Why? Because terrorists, jihadists, hate preachers, holocaust deniers, rape apologists, and all manner of bad guys, are making money out of adverts appearing next to their videos. And the tech giants are doing little about it. They are more interested in making money.
As a result, and probably because of embarrassment and concerns about reputational damage, companies are starting to react. Havas, one of the world’s biggest advertising agencies, which spends about £175 million in the UK on digital advertising of which Google receives £35 million, has pulled all its 240 UK clients from Google, including O2, EDF, and the Royal Mail.
Its UK CEO said “Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platforms and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect“.
Vodafone, Sky and Barclays Bank are also said to be considering withdrawing their advertising unless Google sorts itself out. Sky is said to be concerned about the lax controls and wants assurances that their ads will not appear on hate sites. YouTube posters typical get just under £7 for every thousand views. Some of these videos have been viewed hundreds of thousands of times.
Google’s websites, which includes YouTube, have been paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds to hate preachers and jihadists for displaying ads next to their videos which have included Argos, Sandals, Visit Scotland, The RAF, Nissan, and other companies, some of which have now withdrawn their ads.
Companies which have pulled ads from YouTube include the Cabinet Office, Sainsburys, The Gurdian, Audi, the BBC, Transport for London, the Financial Services Authority, Channel 4, L’Oreal, and McDonalds.
Audi said “YouTube safeguards have not proven as robust as they need to be” and McDonalds said it was disappointed that safeguards to protect its advertising had fallen through. Channel 4 said it was not satisfied that the platform was a ‘safe environment’.
We should have seen it coming when Google dropped its famous mantra “don’t be evil“. Its UK MD Roman Harris, said that the company had “begun a thorough review of our ads policies an brand controls’. Not before time.
They claim to receive 200,000 flags a day about inappropriate content and review 98% within 24 hours, although some offensive videos have remained on the platform for several years.
They also claim to have removed nearly two billion “bad ads” last year and prevented ads on more than 300 million YouTube videos. Doesn’t the scale of it suggest there is a systemic problem with these platforms?
They admit that they rely on the public to report offensive YouTube content because it cannot police the site proactively because of the quantity of material it hosts. This is ludicrous, get more staff! You can afford it. But that is not under consideration by Google. They say that user notification and technology is a better way of dealing with it. In other words let users do their job for them, at no cost to the company. So in addition to avoiding tax they avoid payroll costs as well!
It’s clear that it doesn’t take its responsibilities seriously and critics says its ‘notification and takedown’ system isn’t ‘fit for purpose’. I suggest the whole platform is not fit for purpose if it can’t be policed effectively.
If the Sunday Times and Times hadn’t publicised the fact that online adverts were funding terrorists, holocaust deniers, racists, rape apologists and hate preachers would this have been even considered in the boardrooms?
Surely advertising agencies knew what was happening and they must be complicit in this, raking in their generous fees.
Last week Google had to apologise to Whitehall officials when a government advert appeared next to hate content. “It is totally unacceptable that taxpayer-funded advertising has appeared next to inappropriate internet content. That message was conveyed very clearly to Google” a government spokesman said.
How about charging Google with assisting or conspiring with the bad guys to incite or promote hatred? After all Google is facilitating them.
The Commons home affairs committee has warned Google it must take ‘proactive steps’ to remove extremist material or face regulation and large fines. As other commentators have said, they can’t go on pretending just to be tech companies given the amount of media content they promulgate and they should be covered by the same tight regulations as other forms of media.
Perhaps if more companies stopped advertising on digital media and used print media instead we might have more newspapers and less fake news as well.
In Germany a draft law is proposing fines of up to £47 million if hate content is not quickly removed. If they can do it why can’t we? Let’s get to grips with this insidious problem.