News — June 18, 2017 at 5:20 pm

Google exec says advertising problem is ‘very, very, very small’

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Google’s chief business officer, Philipp Schindler, has claimed that the company’s problem with adverts running on extremist material on YouTube affects “very, very, very small numbers”, but that the company has implemented a wide range of features to try and solve it anyway.

“It has always been a small problem”, Schindler told Recode’s Peter Kafka, “and over the last few weeks, someone has decided to put a bit more of a spotlight on the problem.”

A Google spokesman added that “when we spoke with many of our top brand advertisers, it was clear that the videos they had flagged received less than 1/1000th of a percent of the advertisers’ total impressions. Of course, when we find that ads mistakenly ran against content that doesn’t comply with our policies, we immediately remove those ads.”

Even though the number of people who see adverts next to problematic material may be very low compared to the overall audience of any particular message, it has still prompted concerted effort from YouTube. In March, Schindler promised a raft of changes to the platform’s advertising policy, telling advertisers the company would tighten up its definition of extreme material, offer better controls to advertisers, and use AI to review questionable content.

The problem for advertisers is not that large numbers of people might see their brands associated with YouTube channels such as far-right group Britain First or conspiracy theory broadcaster Infowars; instead, it is that each and every individual instance of an advert being displayed against such material runs the risk of considerable damage to the brand.

For Schindler, the main issue is the media attention that such rare events have drawn. The frequency of such mistakes, he said, “should always be smaller. It’s our responsibility to make it smaller. Let’s not take away from that. But remember, we’ve had that problem, at scale, for a long time. The whole industry [has], even traditional. The problem comes from the fact that somebody is aggressively putting it on to the front page.”

As the boycott from advertisers against Google has grown, it has also expanded from YouTube to a second of Google’s three major advertising platforms. AdSense, a Google product that lets websites host adverts algorithmically selected by Google, has come under attack for similar reasons: advertisers buying space do not know which websites their messages are being placed on. Some controversial websites, including far-right news outlet Breitbart, use Adsense to fill their inventory, which has made many advertisers uneasy.

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