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Google Vows To Remove Ads From Offensive YouTube Content


Marks and Spencer, The Guardian and the British government are just some of the advertisers in the United Kingdom that are fighting with Google. They have pulled ads from Google and its platform YouTube because they're concerned that these ads appear next to content that promotes hate.

Today, NPR's Aarti Shahani reports, Google responded. They promised to hire, quote, "significant numbers of people to help solve the problem."

AARTI SHAHANI, BYLINE: Google just made a very public concession, saying in a memo that the company will remove ads more effectively and tightened safeguards and invest in more staff. But interestingly, behind the scenes, people deep inside Europe's multi-billion dollar advertising industry disagree about who is really to blame. Curt Simon Harlinghausen with Publicis Media in Munich advises big brands and blames Google.

CURT SIMON HARLINGHAUSEN: They struggle with organizing and administrating content and advertisements in the big scale. If you do a lot of automatization, you cannot guarantee things getting right because you still have a lot of misinterpretation of information.

SHAHANI: Meaning Google relies on software to ID what content is OK, what's an ISIS video versus a trailer for a new Vin Diesel movie. And he says Google's software lets too much slip through the cracks and pairs advertisers with bad content, hate content. But Andre Alpar of Performics in Berlin, which also represents advertisers, says while it's easy to blame Google - they are the giant - the big brands are really at fault.

ANDRE ALPAR: The advertisers have to make sure to put the money where the mouth is.

SHAHANI: Meaning, in the old days of Google, advertisers would pay to put ads on specific websites. Then Google developed new products to let you chase eyeballs instead of pages. So if I'm BMW, I can pay Google to put me in front of a thousand high-net-worth consumers, whatever sites they may visit across the vast and growing internet. This whole system is based on a well-known fact.

ALPAR: That you don't actually know where you're going to reach your customer.

SHAHANI: It could be a white supremacist blog or a golf lovers page. Big brands could decide to take it upon themselves to keep a short list - or a very long list - of sites that are incompatible with their brand values and block ads accordingly. But as with many problems that appear to be about values and principles, there's an economic reality at play. If you want to, say, reach a thousand people, it's more expensive to do that when you limit the number of sites you're willing to advertise on. So Alpar says big brands have a financial incentive to turn a blind eye

ALPAR: As long as nobody raises an issue, then I can do the same thing for $2 that I can do for six. It's OK. But if somebody starts raising the issue then (clicking).

SHAHANI: Then you haven't invested enough. The issue is being raised at a time when Europe is in the middle of its election season, and the public there, witnessing what happened in the U.S., has its own concerns about the impact of fake news and extremist content. A Google spokesperson says the company is committed to making it easier for brands to control where their ads go and is moving really quickly. The company plans to reveal more details about its new systems in the coming weeks. Aarti Shahani, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Aarti Shahani is a correspondent for NPR. Based in Silicon Valley, she covers the biggest companies on earth. She is also an author. Her first book, Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares (out Oct. 1, 2019), is about the extreme ups and downs her family encountered as immigrants in the U.S. Before journalism, Shahani was a community organizer in her native New York City, helping prisoners and families facing deportation. Even if it looks like she keeps changing careers, she's always doing the same thing: telling stories that matter.