March 16, 2017 Last Updated 8:19 am

The Guardian pulls advertising with Google over placement of membership ads

UK newspaper complained to Google that its ads, placed by its agency, were appearing next to ‘extremist material’ such as YouTube videos of American white nationalists

This is a problem Google could fix if it really wanted to: Google ads appearing on websites and on YouTube that are next to hate content. It has led the Guardian to pulls its Google after it complained that ads for its membership program were appearing next to objectionable material.

Guardian chief executive David Pemsel wrote to Google to complain that it would pull its ads until Google can “provide guarantees that this ad misplacement via Google and YouTube will not happen in the future.”

The ads were placed by the newspaper’s ad agency using the Google DoubleClick Ad Exchange known as AdX.

As this site has pointed out, Google is a major revenue source for many of the websites and content the Guardian found objectionable. Getting a Google account is relatively easy, and the more sites Google can sign up, the more drive traffic is driven, and the more money they can make.

While the top political website, The Huffington Post, dwarfs its competitors, many of the next most trafficked sites after the HuffPost are on the far right, such as InfoWars and Breitbart – sites that the Guardian would not see as appropriate for their ads. But it is unlikely that these sites generate the content that concerns the Guardian. Instead, the UK newspaper cited YouTube videos of American white nationalists, a hate preacher banned in the UK and a controversial Islamist preacher, as being where the ads were placed.

Google for its part, says that it continues to work on the problem.

“We have strict guidelines that define where Google ads should appear, and in the vast majority of cases, our policies work as intended, protecting users and advertisers from harmful or inappropriate content,” a spokesman told the Guardian.

“We accept that we don’t always get it right, and that sometimes, ads appear where they should not. We’re committed to doing better, and will make changes to our policies and brand controls for advertisers.”

Google, though, seems to waste a lot of time and effort warning sites like TNM that Google ads are appearing next to nude content when this is, in fact, not happening. Any story about Playboy magazine, for instance, generates a Google AdSense warning message, despite the fact that TNM has never run a nude photo. Just recently Google warned TNM about an old story about Penthouse launching a digital edition app that featured one of its covers with a model covering her breasts. Two years after the story appeared Google sent TNM a warning. The picture was deleted simply because such an old story would not get any additional traffic, and the picture was merely a design element. The text of the story remained unchanged, But the warning amounted to censorship as it threatened this site (not to mention that it was 100 percent wrong in its claims).

Rather than trying to monitor where its ads are appearing, it might be better if Google spent more time monitoring who it is doing business with, in general. Its Google News program does a decent job of making sure most sites that are included in its News section actually care about the news. Some junk sites slip in occasionally, but it is not so bad a situation.

Conversely, advertisers are not treated with respect when their ads appear on extremist websites. These sites should not have been included in the Google ad programs to begin with. Pulling their accounts would not only help with Google’s ability to guarantee the integrity of their ad programs, but it would starve hate groups of Google revenue. These sites could, of course, continue to publish – no one is arguing that they should be censored – just that Google advertisers should not be forced to pay the bills to keep these sites profitable – not unless they had designated these sort of websites as appropriate.

It should be noted that Google last year gave €150,000 to three UK organizations working on fact-checking projects – a nice gesture. But one wonders the size of the checks Google and Facebook write on an ongoing basis to groups actually generating the “fake news” the fact-checking projects reviewing?

Update (3-17): The Guardian on Friday reported that Google has promised more control for brands over their ad placements. The move comes as the UK government requests the company come to the Cabinet Office to explain itself.

“Google is responsible for ensuring the high standards applied to government advertising are adhered to and that adverts do not appear alongside inappropriate content. We have placed a temporary restriction on our YouTube advertising pending reassurances from Google that government messages can be delivered in a safe and appropriate way,” a government spokeswoman is quoted as saying by the Guardian.

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