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Google is in a tricky position because of an advertiser boycott that has seen huge brands pull ads after revelations that they were appearing next to offensive YouTube videos and other objectionable content.
Late last month, more than 250 brands reportedly froze their campaigns aside from search with Google, though some have since reversed course. Analysts at Nomura Instinet estimated that Google could lose up to $750 million from the boycott.
Now Google is on the offensive to try to wash away the concerns about brand safety.
Google did a big press push Monday morning, with its chief business officer, Philipp Schindler, talking to The New York Times, Bloomberg, and Recode. His statements about the boycott showed how convoluted Google’s position is.
Google wants to look like it’s facing the problem head-on while it maintains it’s not a problem in the first place.
“We take this as seriously as we’ve ever taken a problem,” Schindler told The New York Times. “We’ve been in emergency mode.”
Emergency mode sounds drastic, and on Monday, Google announced it was using a new machine-learning tool to identify offensive content, which Schindler told Recode could find five times as many videos that weren’t “brand safe.”
Google is acting, and it wants the public to know about it. But at the same time, Google wants to stress that it wasn’t a big deal anyway.
“It has always been a small problem” with “very, very, very, small numbers” of ads, Schindler told Recode.
He echoed this language in another interview.
“Historically, it has been a very small, small problem,” Schindler told Bloomberg. “We can make it an even smaller, smaller, smaller problem.”
OK, so if it’s such a small problem, is there a way to wipe it out? According to Google, no.
“Cutting away the ability for brands to truly interact with consumers by asking for one hundred percent safety is very, very, very unrealistic,” Schindler told Bloomberg.
This last statement gives a window into the heart of the problem for Google. Google doesn’t want to guarantee that ads won’t appear on offensive videos – rather, it wants to get that possibility to a small enough level where its brand partners won’t be upset about it anymore. That likely will happen when there are no more headlines about it.
Like with Facebook’s response to “fake news,” this position leads to the rhetorical jujitsu of taking responsibility and action while simultaneously admitting that, realistically, you will continue to allow some small percentage of the problem to happen on your platform.
Additional reporting by Julien Rath.