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Government and Guardian take action against Google and YouTube over extremist ad links


By John Glenday, Reporter

March 17, 2017 | 4 min read

The Guardian has taken the dramatic step of canceling all advertising on Google and YouTube in protest at the placement of its membership ads in proximity to extremist material hosted by the search giant - following hot on the heels of the UK government demanding an explanation as to why public campaigns are also popping up alongside extremist material.

Horrified staff at the newspaper took the decision to sever all ties in response to the ‘completely unacceptable’ misuse of their ads, which is believed to have occurred when an agency acting on its behalf made use of Google’s AdX automated ad exchange.

The government meanwhile has placed a 'temporary restriction' on its own YouTube advertising. In a statement a government spokeswoman said: "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."

The joint action will see all forms of advertising with the search giant brought to an end until it can ‘provide guarantees that such ad misplacement via Google and YouTube will not happen in the future’. A Google spokesman failed to offer any such guarantee however, stating only that the organization was ‘committed to doing better’.

It is believed that the Guardian and government were inadvertently linked to controversial content including videos of an American white nationalist peddling hate and an Islamist preacher banned from the UK.

“More needs to be done now to protect the reputation of responsible advertisers on digital platforms. ISBA urges Google immediately to review its policies and controls on the placement of advertising and to raise the bar to eliminate the risk of brands being damaged by inappropriate context. Whatever Google's editorial policy, advertising should only be sold against content that is safe for brands," said Phil Smith, director general of ISBA the voice of British advertisers

"ISBA would further encourage Google to withdraw immediately from sale any advertising inventory which it cannot guarantee as a safe environment for advertising, to restore advertiser confidence and to allow a thorough review of systems, processes and controls to take place. As a specific example, ISBA urges Google to review the practice of placing advertising immediately against newly-uploaded YouTube content, before it has been classified. Google should ensure that content is quarantined until properly categorised.

"ISBA’s Media Services Framework has been prepared for its members to serve as the contractual foundation to ensure that best practice industry standards are applied in buying online media. There are also ISBA tools available to advertisers to help mitigate the impact of ad misplacement and to try to ensure online brand safety. ISBA is a founder member of JICWEBS (Joint Industry Committee for Web Standards) and DTSG (Digital Standards Trading Group), which certifies companies for their online brand safety processes."

Such unfortunate associations have become increasingly common with the rise of programmatic advertising, an automated process of buying and selling advertising online.

Yesterday Google's UK MD Ronana Harris called on advertisers to work with it on such issues.

The IPA meanwhile said it was now "fast tracking" discussions in this area with Google.

“It is very disappointing to see further evidence of corporate and now Government ads appearing adjacent to questionable or unsafe content," said Paul Bainsfair, IPA director general.

“The IPA is continuing in our joint industry work to help ensure better online brand safety (details). We are also fast-tracking our discussions in this area, particularly with Google. And last week we coordinated a mass multi-buying point email to online inventory suppliers about JICWEBS' brand safety compliance which has led to many more signing up.”

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