Google to revamp ad policies after boycott by Britain, big brands

Google has apologised for allowing ads to appear alongside offensive videos on YouTube as more high-profile firms such as Marks & Spencer and HSBC pulled advertising for British markets from Google sites.

LONDON • Google has announced changes to its advertising policies after major brands pulled advertisements from the platform because they appeared alongside offensive content, such as videos promoting terrorism or anti-Semitism.

The US company said in a blog post last Friday that it would give clients more control over where their ads appear on YouTube, the video-sharing service it owns, and the Google Display Network, which posts advertising to third-party websites.

The announcement came after the British government and The Guardian newspaper pulled advertisements from the video site, stepping up pressure on YouTube to police content on its platform.

France's Havas, the world's sixth-largest advertising and marketing company, also pulled its British clients' ads from Google and YouTube last Friday after failing to get assurances from Google that the ads would not appear next to offensive material. Those clients include government-owned BBC, Domino's Pizza and Hyundai Kia, Havas said.

"Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platform and Google Display Network's ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect," said Mr Paul Frampton, chief executive officer and country manager for Havas Media Group UK.

Google made US$7.8 billion (S$11 billion) in advertising revenue in Britain last year, accounting for 8.6 per cent of the company's total sales.

Later, the parent company Havas said it would not take any action outside Britain, and called its British unit's decision "a temporary move".

The decision to pull advertisements from Google followed a Times of London investigation that revealed ads from many large companies and the British government appeared alongside content from the likes of American white nationalist David Duke and pastor Steven Anderson, who had praised the killing of 49 people in an Orlando gay nightclub in June last year.

Google made US$7.8 billion (S$11 billion) in advertising revenue in Britain last year, accounting for 8.6 per cent of the company's total sales.

The boycott signals a growing backlash against so-called programmatic trading, which automates the buying and selling of advertising online, and social media providers that are seen to not be doing enough to tackle hate disseminated on their platforms.

Media-buying firms are also increasingly resentful of the power wielded by Google and Facebook, claiming that the two companies operate a global duopoly over online advertising.

Mr Ronan Harris, Google's United Kingdom managing director, said in the blog post that the company removed nearly two billion offensive ads from its platforms last year and also blacklisted 100,000 publishers from its ad sense programme.

The company will now review its policies and said it would be making changes "in the coming weeks" to help customers stop their ads from appearing on objectionable websites or against offensive videos, Mr Harris said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2017, with the headline 'Google to revamp ad policies after boycott by Britain, big brands'. Print Edition | Subscribe