Now banks have pulled their Google ad spend as Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Lloyds pile on pressure

 
Lynsey Barber
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Google is facing pressure from brands to take action (Source: Getty)

Google is facing growing pressure over claims it's profiting from hate speech as some of Britain's biggest banks are the latest to pull their ads from YouTube.

Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Lloyds have suspended their advertising with the tech giant following an investigation which revealed household brand names were appearing next to offensive and extremist content on the video site.

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer is reportedly preparing to pull its advertising with the tech firm for the same reason.

A spokesperson for RBS said: "We are not aware of any issue with our ads to date, but we take this issue extremely seriously and are suspending all advertising until they fix this."

Other high-profile brands Vodafone, Sky and Barclays are also considering whether or not to withdraw ads, according to the Sunday Times.

A Sky spokesperson said: “It is clearly unacceptable for ads to be appearing alongside inappropriate content and we are talking with Google to understand what they are doing to stop this happening.”

Read more: Google, Facebook and Twitter won't tell MPs how many staff moderate content

It follows the extraordinary steps taken by french advertising group Havas on Friday, which pulled advertising of all its UK clients on YouTube and Google Display Network.The media agency sells ads on behalf of O2, Royal Mail, the BBC and Dominos among others.

WPP, the world's biggest advertising group, fell short of pulling its clients' ads. But, chief executive Sir Martin Sorrell warned they "cannot masquerade as technology companies" and have the same responsibilities as any other media company.

A spokesperson for WPP media agency GroupM, said:

"Digital advertising on platforms where content is user-generated and not curated has inherent brand safety risks. 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.

"At the highest levels, we have communicated with Google, Facebook, Snapchat and other partners to encourage their development of solutions. However, a 100 per cent foolproof system may not be possible. It’s important that brands know this and proceed with caution – as well as with available safety tools."

Sky rival BT, both of which are the UK's biggest advertisers, said it was confident that its advertising appeared as it should.

A spokesperson said: “We take our responsibilities as an advertiser seriously and have a robust set of safeguards in place to make sure our adverts don’t appear on websites or content which may be dedicated to offensive themes.”

Earlier, several brands - The Guardian, Channel 4, L'Oreal and government bodies such as Transport for London (TfL) and the Ministry of Defence (MOD- withdrew from advertising through the channel.

Google defended its abilities to tackle the problem, saying it invests millions in and employs thousands to stop bad advertising practices, but admitted it doesn't always "get it right".

"Just last year, we removed nearly 2 billion bad ads from our systems, removed over 100,000 publishers from our AdSense program, and prevented ads from serving on over 300 million YouTube videos," said Google UK managing director Ronan Harris in a blog post.

"In a very small percentage of cases, ads appear against content that violates our monetisation policies. We promptly remove the ads in those instances, but we know we can and must do more."

However, the tech firm was hauled in front of the Cabinet Office on Friday to explain itself and will be asked to update civil servants on their actions again next week.

Read more: Facebook, Google and Twitter could face €50m fines for fake news

It follows a severe ticking of for Google by MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee last week, along with Twitter and Facebook. They accused the online channels of failing to do enough to tackle offensive content posted on their platforms with committee chair Yvette Cooper labelling Google's efforts on community standards "a bit of a joke".

She followed this up with a stinging letter to Google's head of public policy Peter Barron accusing the company of profiting from hatred.

The debacle comes ahead of Advertising Week Europe, where several senior executives from Google, including top boss in Europe Matt Brittin, are set to appear on stage with peers to discuss the future of advertising.

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