Big brands pull Google ads over extremist content fears


M&S has become the latest brand to “pause” its Google ads over fears it is appearing next to extremist content, following similar decisions from McDonald’s, L’Oreal, Tesco, major banks and the UK government.


Last week, the UK government decided to remove its adverts from YouTube – which is owned by Google – after it emerged they had appeared alongside content from supporters of extremist groups.

RBS, Lloyds and HSBC also announced similar moves over the weekend.

Google has said it does not always “get it right” and will improve.

“In a very small percentage of cases, ads appear against content that violates our monetisation policies,” Ronan Harris, the firm’s UK managing director, said on Friday.

“We promptly remove those ads in those instances, but we know we can and must do more.”

It follows a recent investigation by the Times, which found adverts from a range of well-known firms and organisations had appeared alongside content from supporters of extremist groups on the YouTube video site.

An ad appearing alongside a video earns the poster about £6 for every 1,000 clicks it generates, meaning brands may have unwittingly contributed money to extremists.

Marks and Spencer said it was “pausing activity” – adding to the list of commercial organisations that have already done so, as well as the Government.

Global advertising giant Havas, which buys ad space for a number of big companies, suspended advertising last week.

M&S said: “In order to ensure brand safety, we are pausing activity across Google platforms whilst the matter is worked through.”

McDonald’s UK also said it had pulled ads through Google, saying it was “disappointed to learn” that safeguards it had “to protect against our adverts appearing alongside unacceptable content” had fallen through.

Supermarket giant Tesco and high street banks Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Lloyds are among the brands taking a similar position as is Audi UK.

Other businesses including Barclays are considering what to do – though Barclays does not currently have any advertising on YouTube or Google.

Elsewhere, media-buying agency GroupM, part of the world’s largest ad agency WPP, has told Google to apologise to customers and advertisers who saw inappropriate content on YouTube.

It has also written to clients explaining the potential risks to their brands and asking them how they want to respond.

MPs recently said Google was “still profiting from hatred” after it failed to remove videos from groups allegedly linked to terrorism.
Yvette Cooper MP, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, has said that Google’s failure to remove the hate videos by was “frankly astonishing”

Last week the committee summoned bosses from Google, Facebook and Twitter, to question them about the action the web giants were taking to remove hate speech from their platforms.

It also raised the issue of adverts automatically being put next to hate videos.

A Google spokesman said last week: “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.

“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.”

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