It takes only minutes on YouTube to find ads from major brands next to hateful videos promoting extremism and racism.
Though the issue has been longstanding, a global brand boycott of the platform has been gathering steam. It’s now reached Australia, with Telstra and Foxtel swearing off YouTube. At least, for now.
As first reported by Fairfax Media, the Australian arms of Vodafone and Nestlé have also joined the boycott.
A spokesperson for the cable TV provider Foxtel said the company is “actively engaged with Google” to ensure its ads are not run next to offensive content, but it still suspended advertising until the issue is resolved.
“Having had an incident drawn to our attention, we are no longer satisfied that the settings are proving effective,” he said.
Vodafone advertising is paused on all Google digital properties except search. The telecommunications company is now working with Google and its agencies to find a new, safer approach, a company spokesperson said.
A Telstra representative also confirmed YouTube advertising would be suspended until “we are satisfied there is an appropriate level of protection for our brand.”
YouTube’s problems began in the UK, when its parent company Google appeared before UK lawmakers to explain why tax-payer funded ads for the BBC and tourism agencies were appearing next to homophobic and racist videos.
“We have made the decision to pause our advertising on YouTube until we are satisfied there is an appropriate level of protection for our brand.”
The government pulled the ads, as did a broad spectrum of brands including The Guardian, L’Oreal and Honda.
Much of the furor has emerged after reporting by The Times, which found ads for Mercedes-Benz and Marie Curie next to extremist YouTube videos. This, in their words, meant brands were “unwittingly funding Islamic extremists, white supremacists and pornographers.”
Google said it does not comment on individual videos, but added that “an extensive review” of its advertising policies is underway.
“While we recognize that no system will be 100% perfect, we believe these major steps will further safeguard our advertisers’ brands and we are committed to being vigilant and continuing to improve over time,” a spokesperson said.
The situation has exposed the failings of mostly automated ad placement software — an approach used by Google, as well as Facebook and others. Blacklisting piracy or pornography sites is common across the industry, but ads can often slip through the cracks on sites like YouTube that host user-generated content.
Some ad tech firms now suggest advertisers consider whitelisting a small number of sites instead.
“It drives me crazy that in 2016, there are still advertisers that are buying blindly across open exchanges,” Eric Franchi, co-founder of ad tech firm Undertone, told Mashable previously. “No brand safety controls; no verification; and it doesn’t need to be that way.”