UK ad watchdog slams Google, Facebook over brand safety

LONDON • Britain's trade body for advertising agencies, the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA), has lambasted Google and Facebook in an open letter, accusing the United States tech titans of being too slow to tackle problems with brand safety, viewability and measurement.

The unusual step of making the letter public indicates that the IPA wants to pressurise Google and Facebook in the wake of recent controversies over the placement of ads alongside extremist content on YouTube and measurement errors on Facebook.

The IPA has demanded "urgent action" to rectify the situation in the letters to Google's UK managing director, Mr Ronan Harris, and Facebook's regional director of northern Europe, Mr Steve Hatch.

"While we acknowledge that small steps towards addressing recent concerns have been taken, our advertisers and agencies are increasingly telling us that this progress is neither fast, nor significant, enough," wrote Mr Paul Bainsfair, the director-general of the IPA, in the letter.

"We believe it is incumbent upon the key players in this sector, therefore, to show real commitment to finding solutions to these problems," he said. He noted that Britain has "witnessed the most damaging press coverage for brands" in the wake of the problem advertising.

The IPA said Google and Facebook have a responsibility as the two biggest digital media owners, and suggested that Britain could be a "test bed" for the firms to introduce "global gold standards" that could then be replicated in other markets around the world.

Mr Bainsfair asked the firms to participate in a cross-industry initiative in Britain, the Digital Trading Standards Group's (DTSG) good practice principles in the interest of improving brand safety.

The unusual step of making the letter public indicates that the IPA wants to pressurise Google and Facebook in the wake of recent controversies over the placement of ads alongside extremist content on YouTube and measurement errors on Facebook.

He said DTSG principles would permit independent verification of the companies' brand safety policies by bodies such as the Audit Bureau of Circulation, noting that Google's Double Click has signed up to DTSG principles, but YouTube and Facebook had yet to follow suit.

In addition, he urged Google and Facebook to permit independent verification of video viewability and video audience measurement.

Google and Facebook have previously acknowledged problems with their digital media supply chain and claim to have tightened policies, but are reluctant to allow independent, third-party measurement despite making some concessions.

Responding to the letter, a Facebook spokesman said: "We are already engaged in a constructive dialogue with the IPA and its members on these important topics. We take our commitment to advertisers seriously, and through continued investment and innovation we're making progress, together with our partners in the industry."

"In the last few months, we've announced an extra 3,000 content reviewers to nearly double our existing team, as well as new buying options and controls for advertisers that give choice and transparency over how and where ads appear on the platform," the spokesman told Campaign Asia-Pacific, a media organisation focused on the emerging media and marketing industry in the Asia-Pacific.

"We have also updated our metrics to give more clarity and confidence about the insights we provide, including our work with 24 third-party measurement partners who can verify the value we drive for advertisers," he added.

Google declined to comment while stressing it wants to maintain good relations with the IPA.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2017, with the headline 'UK ad watchdog slams Google, Facebook over brand safety'. Print Edition | Subscribe