Google, the primary revenue driver for Alphabet Inc., announced it will change its advertising policies after several major brands pulled ads 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 Friday it would give advertisers more control over where their ads appear on both YouTube, the video-sharing service it owns, and the Google Display Network, which posts advertising to third-party websites and against search engine results.
The announcement came after the UK government and the Guardian newspaper stepped up pressure on YouTube to police content on its platform, pulling ads from the video site because they appeared beside clips they view as inappropriate.
The decision to pull ads from Google followed a Times of London investigation that revealed ads from many large companies and the UK government appeared alongside content from the likes of white nationalist David Duke and pastor Steven Anderson, who praised the killing of 49 people in a gay nightclub.
Ronan Harris, Google's UK managing director, said in the blog post that last year Google removed nearly 2 billion offensive ads from its platforms last year and also blacklisted 100,000 publishers from the company's ad sense program. Despite this, Harris wrote in the blog post, "we don't always get it right."
He said Google had "heard from our advertisers loud and clear that we can provide simpler, more robust ways to stop their ads from showing against controversial content."
The company will now review its policies and said it would be making changes "in the coming weeks" to help customers stop their ads appearing on objectionable websites or against offensive videos, Harris said.
Ads appeared "next to extremist and hate-filled videos," prompting Guardian News & Media to stop all advertising through YouTube parent Google, the British publisher said in an emailed statement Friday. The UK government said it suspended advertising on YouTube until the site can ensure they're not placed next to content it doesn't approve of.
"Google is responsible for ensuring the high standards applied to government advertising are adhered to and that adverts do not appear alongside inappropriate content," the UK government said in an emailed statement. "We have placed a temporary restriction on our YouTube advertising pending reassurances from Google that government messages can be delivered in a safe and appropriate way."
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.
Britain's government said it summoned Google for discussions to explain how it can guarantee the state's demands are met, while on Tuesday Germany threatened to fine social networks such as Facebook as much as EUR 50 million ($53 million) if they fail to give users the option to complain about hate speech and fake news or refuse to remove illegal content.
British supermarket chain J Sainsbury, whose ads appeared on videos posted by the white nationalist Polish Defence League, said it and its sister brand Argos would immediately suspend all Google advertising. "It is unacceptable that Google is allowing our ads to be placed alongside these videos on YouTube," the company said in an emailed statement. It said it was seeking "urgent assurances" from Google that the problems were being addressed.
The Guardian said it would be withdrawing its advertising until Google could provide guarantees that the ad misplacement wouldn't happen in future.
"It is completely unacceptable that Google allows advertising for brands like the Guardian to appear next to extremist and hate-filled videos," Guardian News & Media said.
© 2017 Bloomberg L.P.