Google braces for twin as­sault over ads placed next to ex­trem­ist con­tent

More ques­tions from MPs as ad in­dus­try weighs in Big brands quick to re­act by pulling ad­ver­tise­ments

The Guardian - - FINANCIAL - Rob Davies

Google ex­ec­u­tives are brac­ing for a twopronged in­qui­si­tion from the ad­ver­tis­ing in­dus­try and the gov­ern­ment over the com­pany’s plans to stop ads be­ing placed next to ex­trem­ist ma­te­rial.

Many big-name com­pa­nies, ad­ver­tis­ing firms and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments have ei­ther pulled their ads from Google and its YouTube video site, or are con­sid­er­ing do­ing so, with the me­dia firm Sky, the tele­coms com­pany Voda­fone and three banks adding their names to a grow­ing list over the week­end.

The in­ter­net group’s Euro­pean head, Matt Brit­tin, is one of two Google ex­ec­u­tives due to speak at the an­nual Ad­ver­tis­ing Week Europe event, at­tended by large com­pa­nies in the ad­ver­tis­ing world.

Sources said Brit­tin was likely to face a flurry of ques­tions about how ads for big brands had ended up at­tached to videos by ex­trem­ists in­clud­ing hate preach­ers and the for­mer Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. The ads help fund pay­ments to the peo­ple who post the videos, with ev­ery 1,000 clicks worth about £6. Ex­perts es­ti­mate this could have been worth £250,000 to ex­trem­ists.

Brit­tin will be among the first peo­ple to ad­dress del­e­gates, speak­ing to­day along­side Unilever’s chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer, Keith Weed. Unilever de­clined to com­ment on whether it had sus­pended ad­ver­tis­ing through Google.

Lead­ing ad­ver­tis­ing agen­cies have been quick to re­act, with the French mar­ket­ing firm Havas, whose clients in­clude the tele­coms com­pany O2 and Royal Mail, pulling its ads late last week.

Publi­cis, the world’s third-largest ad­ver­tis­ing firm, said it was re­view­ing its re­la­tion­ship with Google and YouTube. The largest ad­ver­tis­ing group, WPP, via its me­dia-buy­ing divi­sion GroupM, has stopped short of can­celling ads but has asked clients how they wish to pro­ceed.

GroupM’s chief dig­i­tal of­fi­cer, Rob Nor­man, told Sky News that Google should apol­o­gise pub­licly to com­pa­nies whose rep­u­ta­tion has been “com­pro­mised”.

Mark Howe, head of Google’s agen­cies busi­ness in Europe, the Mid­dle East and Africa, will also speak at Ad­ver­tis­ing Week Europe. His re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, ac­cord­ing to a com­pany bi­og­ra­phy, in­clude en­sur­ing that Google “builds last­ing and trusted re­la­tion­ships with its cus­tomers”. Brit­tin and Howe will be ex­posed to ques­tions from ad­ver­tis­ing lu­mi­nar­ies at the start of a week in which Google ex­ec­u­tives will have to ex­plain them­selves in a sec­ond meet­ing about the mat­ter with gov­ern­ment min­is­ters.

In a let­ter to the com­pany, the chair of the home af­fairs se­lect com­mit­tee, Yvette Cooper, ac­cused it of “prof­it­ing from ha­tred”.

Last week se­nior fig­ures from Google were sum­moned to the Cab­i­net Of­fice be­cause of con­cerns that tax­payer-funded ads were ap­pear­ing along­side “in­ap­pro­pri­ate” YouTube videos. Google ex­ec­u­tives apol­o­gised but were told to re­turn to the Cab­i­net Of­fice this week with a plan and a timetable to rem­edy the prob­lem.

Big ad­ver­tis­ers have pulled busi­ness from Google in the past week, with Voda­fone, Sky, HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scot­land be­com­ing the lat­est to sus­pend their ads. Other large brands to pull their ads in­clude McDon­ald’s, L’Oréal, Audi, Sains­bury’s, Ar­gos and the BBC. Gov­ern­ment spend­ing has also been sus­pended. Tesco is un­der­stood to have “paused” spend­ing on YouTube. BT said: “We take our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties as an ad­ver­tiser se­ri­ously and have a ro­bust set of safe­guards in place to make sure our ad­verts don’t ap­pear on web­sites or con­tent which may be ded­i­cated to of­fen­sive themes.”

Google is yet to re­veal what it plans to do, but it is un­der­stood it will of­fer to pro­vide ad­vice to ad­ver­tis­ers on how to make bet­ter use of ex­ist­ing tools to pre­vent un­for­tu­nate jux­ta­po­si­tions. It is also ex­pected to take a wider look at how ads are placed, in­clud­ing whether it has put suf­fi­cient pre­ven­tive mea­sures in place.

“We’ve heard from our 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,” Ro­nan Har­ris, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Google UK, said last week.

The Guardian is among the or­gan­i­sa­tions to have with­drawn ad­ver­tis­ing. Ads for the Guardian’s mem­ber­ship scheme are un­der­stood to have been placed along­side ex­trem­ist ma­te­rial af­ter an agency act­ing on the me­dia group’s be­half used Google’s AdX ad ex­change, which in turn uses an au­to­mated sys­tem known as pro­gram­matic trad­ing.

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