Australian advertisers examine UK Google boycott

Google apologized on Monday 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.

Marks and Spencer has become the latest firm to pull its advertising from Google after reports that it has been allowing adverts for United Kingdom companies to appear on extremist websites.

The move by the United Kingdom food and apparel seller adds to the pressure on Google to step up policing to prevent offensive material, such as videos promoting terrorism or anti-Semitism, from appearing alongside ads.

"As an organisation we conduct extensive work with our clients to develop brand safety protocols at the brand level, which will positively influence all their activities".

"Whatever Google's editorial policy, advertising should only be sold against content that is safe for brands".

Adverts for leading brands, including The Guardian newspaper, Marks & Spencer, the BBC, L'Oreal and Audi have appeared alongside videos from the likes of the Klu Klux Klan and Isis.

The British government has summoned Google to explain itself after an investigation showed that taxpayer-funded ads were used on inappropriate content, according to a CNN report.

Representatives for retailers Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's and Argos, British banks HSBC and RBS, McDonald's, the United Kingdom branch of advertising group Havas and the BBC told Reuters their firms had stopped ads. "GroupM vigorously pursues every brand safety precaution and technology available to mitigate these risks, and we encourage all clients to make use of these tools.", GroupM said in a statement. We take our responsibilities to these industry issues very seriously. French advertising company Havas SA said it was removing certain clients' spots from the site after it failed to get assurances that they wouldn't appear alongside offensive videos. Automating a system like the one it now uses to automatically match ads against content adopts an "ask me no questions and I'll tell you no lies" approach - by hiding behind algorithms, Google only has to intervene once someone (human) flags the match as inappropriate.

Matt Brittin, Head of the company for EMEA, said: "We are sorry to anybody that's been affected".

"It is frankly ridiculous that Google can take our money but not curate the content on its own website", said one executive at a FTSE 100 company to me.

A spokesman for ISBA urged Google to "immediately review its policies and controls on the placement of advertising and to raise the bar to eliminate the risk of brands being damaged by inappropriate context".

Google UK managing director Ronan Harris said last week, "We've heard from our advertisers and agencies loud and clear that we can provide simpler, more robust ways to stop their ads from showing against controversial content".

  • Eleanor Harrison