Can Google police YouTube?

The controversy over ads appearing next to extremist content on YouTube has been a largely British affair - but now it's making waves at Google's Mountain View HQ.

A new blog by Google's Chief Business Officer promises more safeguards for advertisers. But I've seen for myself just how hard it seems to be for Google to police its platform.

Philipp Schindler, who runs the Google advertising business, the profit engine fuelling the entire search empire, repeats the apology to advertisers made yesterday by his colleague Matt Brittin.

He says he knows that what has happened is "unacceptable to the advertisers and agencies who put their trust in us", and he says a change in policies has already begun.

Starting today, he writes, Google is taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content.

This includes removing ads from videos containing that sort of material but also taking what he calls a "hard look" at what sort of content should be allowed on YouTube at all.


'More control'

Mr Schindler also details a number of ways that advertisers will be given more control and transparency over where their ads are placed and promises that Google will be "hiring significant numbers of people and developing new tools powered by our latest advancements in AI and machine learning to increase our capacity to review questionable content for advertising".

What isn't clear is whether any of those people will be actively setting out to find this questionable content - yesterday Matt Brittin ducked questions about that at the Advertising Week conference.

My experience looking for extremist videos on YouTube this morning shows it isn't too difficult to find them. I discovered a video of a speech given by National Action, a right-wing extremist group banned by the Home Secretary under anti-terrorism legislation late last year.

The video had been posted three months ago, but shortly after I'd tweeted about its presence on the site it was removed - you will now find a message saying "This content is not available on this country domain."

A little later I returned to the YouTube channel of the person who'd uploaded the National Action video. Most seemed to be about Hitler, Nazism and its supporters, and while none of these videos looked to be illegal, I can't see advertisers wanting to be associated with them.

One video starts with an interview with Milo Yiannopoulos about the prevalence of Jews in banking and the media and then moves to a Hitler speech overlaid with archive and captions of a clearly anti-Semitic nature. But what caught my eye was an advert on the video page - for the Advertising Week Europe conference.

So, irony of ironies - the event where Google promised to deal with the issue of brands' ads appearing on content not "aligned with their values" is being advertised next to a video promoting a hateful anti-Semitic message.

It looks as though Philipp Schindler and his team have quite a job on their hands if they are to win back the trust of advertisers.