Google scrabbles to appease advertisers after drawing ire for inappropriate ad placements

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Yesterday, the Guardian withdrew advertising from Google and YouTube after its ads were placed next to extremist content. The British newspaper was not alone -- broadcaster Channel 4, and even the British government soon followed suit.

Now Google is scrabbling to calm down the situation. Advertisers are unhappy that their ads have been placed next to extremist content and hate speech, and Google says it will improve the controls advertisers have over ad placement. At the same time, the company says: "we believe strongly in the freedom of speech and expression on the web -- even when that means we don't agree with the views expressed."

Google admits the need "for strict policies that define where Google ads should appear" saying that policies exist to "prohibit ads from appearing on pages or videos with hate speech, gory or offensive content." Clearly these policies have not worked recently, and the company is going to take steps to improve things.

Channel 4's chief marketing and communications officer, Dan Brooke, says that assurances given on behalf of YouTube about ad placement had been broken:

It is a direct contravention of assurances our media buying agency had received on our behalf from YouTube. As we are not satisfied that YouTube is currently a safe environment, we have removed all Channel 4 advertising from the platform with immediate effect.

Fearful of losing out on advertising revenue -- the company's lifeblood -- Google is undertaking a review of the policies it has in place and investigating ways that things can be improved.

The managing director of Google UK, Ronan Harris, says:

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. While we have a wide variety of tools to give advertisers and agencies control over where their ads appear, such as topic exclusions and site category exclusions, we can do a better job of addressing the small number of inappropriately monetized videos and content. We've begun a thorough review of our ads policies and brand controls, and we will be making changes in the coming weeks to give brands more control over where their ads appear across YouTube and the Google Display Network.

We are committed to working with publishers, advertisers and agencies to address these issues and earn their trust every day so that they can use our services both successfully and safely.

Google has not given any indication of what timescale it is working to or how content will be rated and ranked for advertisers.

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