LONDON – Google was summoned to appear in front of the UK’s Cabinet Office on Friday after the government discovered its ads – and ads for other taxpayer-funded services such as The Royal Navy and the BBC – were appearing next to extremist videos on YouTube, following an investigation from The Times newspaper.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson told Business Insider that senior executives from Google attended the meeting and apologized to senior civil servants representing the government.
Google also pledged a review of its advertising systems.
The government spokesperson said: “It is totally unacceptable that taxpayer-funded advertising has appeared next to inappropriate internet content – and that message was conveyed very clearly to Google. The Cabinet Office has told Google it expects to see a plan and a timetable for work to improve protection of government adverts to ensure this doesn’t happen again. YouTube advertising remains on hold while that work is carried out.”
The UK government has asked Google to return to the Cabinet Office next week to discuss the actions it has taken to strengthen its advertising policies.
This week, a growing number of advertisers – including L’Oreal, McDonald’s, Audi, Sainsbury’s, The Guardian, and Channel 4 – suspended their YouTube advertising, calling on Google to provide assurances that their ads won’t appear next to inappropriate content on the video site.
On Friday, Havas UK became the first media agency to pull all of its clients’ spend from YouTube and Google’s display advertising platform, which delivers ads to third-party websites. The advertising company’s client list includes O2, EDF, and The Royal Mail. Havas spends £35 million ($43 million) on Google advertising in the UK, The Times reported.
Google responded to the advertiser boycott in a blog post also on Friday, saying “we can do a better job.” The company said it would update its ad policies and tools to give brands more control over where their ads appear.
When brands pay for online ad campaigns, they usually do not buy each ad placement individually. Instead, they use a method called programmatic that uses automated systems to target large audiences across a swathe of websites or different YouTube videos.
Programmatic advertising is seen as an efficient way to reach specific audiences online, but it can also risk some ads inadvertently appearing next to undesirable content if proper white lists, blacklists, and other safety checks are not put in place by both the ad platform and the ad buyer.
In another development on Friday, Yvette Cooper, the chair of the UK government’s home affairs committee, wrote to Google’s vice president of communications for EMEA, Peter Barron, accusing the internet giant of “profiting from hatred” by allowing ads to appear next to videos containing hate speech.
“Google is the second richest company on the planet. The lack of effort and social responsibility it is showing towards hate crime on YouTube is extremely troubling. It is inexplicable to us that Google can move very fast to remove material from YouTube when it is found to be copyrighted, but that the same prompt action is not taken when the material involves proscribed organizations and hateful and illegal content,” the letter read.
Google, Twitter, and Facebook appeared before the home affairs committee earlier this week to answer questions about their efforts to tackle hate speech and fake news.