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Ad targeting fails as UK government ads appear in Jihadi YouTube videos


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

July 10, 2014 | 3 min read

Adverts for the BBC, the National Citizen Service, UK charities and other businesses have appeared before Jihadist YouTube videos, according to Newsnight, showcasing a major flaw in current targeted advertising.

500 years worth of content is uploaded to YouTube every day

Famous British brands and government agencies have been shown in ads before ISIS recruitment videos encouraging young men to fight a holy war in Iraq. This is despite Jihadists allegedly plotting attacks against the UK.

The automated advert allocation system provides video uploaders with income from ads. As a result advertisers have unwittingly contributed to the fundamental cause. Furthermore, this controversy further marks infancy in digital advertising – the fact that Jihadists are seeing UK government ads shows they need to be targeted towards viewers more accurately.

Andrew Goode, COO of ad tech provider Project Sunblock, said: “There is an alarming lack of transparency that exists within the online advertising world. Whether video, mobile of desktop, the advertising industry is having the wool pulled over its eyes because of a lack of knowledge and insight into where ads appear once they are paid for.

“In this case it’s important to remember that it’s not only the responsibility of YouTube to ensure that ads don’t appear before extremist videos. In the UK, just over a third of advertisers don’t know where their content is appearing online and it’s all because the desire to target the right users has led to a lack of clarity on where their adverts actually appear."

Goode said that this ignorance is resulting in well-respected brands and businesses appearing on malware sites, alongside the selling of illegal drugs, violence, pornography and that this only be curbed with placement analytics and online brand protection.

He added: “Instances like this are causing many businesses, charities and government bodies to rethink their digital advertising strategy."

Michael Lynas, chief executive of the National Citizen Service,who’s ad appeared before an ISIS recruitment video, said: "No NCS video should appear before the sort of material Newsnight has highlighted.

"It is appalling and is entirely against the ethos of NCS, which brings young people from all backgrounds together, building a more cohesive, engaged and responsible society."

YouTube removes violent videos as they are flagged by viewers and deletes the accounts of those deemed members of a “designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation".

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