Global brands shun Google over row over extremist content

Global brands shun Google
Hundreds of companies suspend advertising in row over extremist content

Alexi Mostrous, Head of Investigations March 21 2017, 12:01am, The Times

Some of the brands that have pulled their ads. The scandal caused Google’s stock to be downgraded yesterday

Global brands including Volkswagen, Toyota and Tesco last night joined the more than 250 companies that have suspended advertising deals with Google as the internet giant apologised for failing to crack down on extremism.

ITV, Aviva and Heinz also pulled advertising from YouTube, Google’s video platform, after an investigation by The Times found the companies promoted on videos posted by hate preachers, rape apologists and homophobic extremists banned from entering Britain.

A growing number of brands have blocked Google or YouTube advertising since the revelations last week. They include Marks & Spencer, Lloyds Bank, O2, L’Oréal, RBS, the BBC, Channel 4 and McDonald’s, as well as the British government. Google does not disclose YouTube revenues, but the accounts are thought to be worth more than £50 million a year.

Matt Brittin, Google’s head in Europe, apologised yesterday and pledged to tackle the issue, telling a conference of advertising executives in London: “When anything like this happens we take responsibility for it.” He admitted, however, that Google did not plan to employ anybody to search out and delete extremist content. Google employees would only examine such content “through two lenses”, he said — when the videos were flagged by other users or detected using automated technology.

Brian Wieser, a US media analyst, downgraded Google’s stock yesterday, warning that the scandal could have global repercussions. Publicis, the world’s third largest advertising agency, said it was clear that Google had fallen short of meeting advertising standards. The French company is reviewing its relationship with Google.

Mr Brittin claimed that Google’s tools and policies worked well in most situations but admitted they needed to improve. It will now make rapid changes to its policies on advertising to “raise the bar” for what is categorised as hate speech or inflammatory content.

As well as making it easier for brands to control where adverts appear, the company will invest in technology to speed up the process of flagging and removing extremist content, he said. “We know we can do even more here,” Mr Brittin said, adding that 98 per cent of content flagged on YouTube was reviewed within 24 hours.

However, when The Times flagged six virulently antisemitic videos to Google last week, the site failed to remove any within 24 hours. Google took down four of the videos only after this newspaper contacted it again.

Volkswagen adverts were found playing on the official YouTube channel of Wagdi Ghoneim, an Islamist who has been banned from Britain for fomenting terrorism. Ghoneim’s videos have attracted hundreds of thousands of views, suggesting that he makes substantial sums from advertisers. Typically, YouTube users receive about £6 for every 1,000 clicks an advert attracts.

ITV, whose adverts appeared on videos posted by David Duke, the former KKK leader, said it would urgently review all future advertising on YouTube and Google. Toyota, which was promoted on YouTube videos posted by Stephen Anderson, a homophobic preacher banned in Britain, said it had suspended YouTube advertising. Volkswagen said it had paused “all activity” on YouTube.

Dan Brooke, chief marketing officer at Channel 4, welcomed Mr Brittin’s apology but said he was “not reassured that they are a safe platform”. Kraft Heinz Europe has halted activity on Google.



Marks & Spencer
Royal Bank of Scotland
The Royal Mail
Domino’s Pizza
UK government


British Airways
Intercontinental Hotels


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