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Brands pull YouTube ads over videos sexualising kids

Several global brands pulled advertising from You-Tube after reports that ads were being shown alongside inappropriate content of children. Mars Inc, Deutsche Bank AG, Adidas AG, Lidl, confectionery maker Mondelez and others pulled their ads after The Times in the UK reported on Friday about the brands’ advertising being broadcast with videos of scantily dressed children.

Comments from hundreds of paedophiles were posted alongside the videos, which appeared to have been uploaded by the children themselves, according to a Times investigation. One clip of a pre-teenage girl in a nightie drew 6.5 million views. The paper said YouTube, owned by Google, had allowed sexualised imagery of children to be easily searchable and had not lived up to promises to better monitor and police its services to protect children.

Money from the advertising is split between YouTube owner Alphabet Inc and those who publish the videos.

Earlier this week, Buzzfeed also reported about YouTube videos with millions of views of children in disturbing situations, including being restrained in ropes or tape and crying. The children are often in revealing clothing, Buzzfeed reported.

“We take this matter very seriously and suspended the advertising campaign as soon as we became aware of it,” Deutsche Bank said in a statement. “As always, our digital marketing agency applied filters to prevent our advertising appearing alongside inappropriate content and we are investigating how the situation arose.”

Mars said it won’t advertise with Google “until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place.” “We are shocked and appalled to see that our adverts have appeared alongside such exploitative and inappropriate content,” Mars said in a statement. “We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally.”

The reports show the problems YouTube, Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc and other online platforms have policing user-generated content published to their sites. They illustrate how features that made the companies immensely popular globally — as open systems where anybody can share — are being subverted and causing daunting new challenges such as Russia’s use of the sites to influence elections.

YouTube faced another advertiser revolt earlier this year when the Times reported that ads from companies such as AT&T Inc, Verizon and Procter & Gamble Co were appearing next to videos of religious extremists. More than 250 companies abandoned or scaled back YouTube advertising in response.

YouTube’s advertising system is largely automated, limiting the control that brands have about where ads are carried. YouTube said in a statement that it’s working to improve safeguards to block this kind of content of children, including employing thousands of people who review content that’s flagged by users or an automated system.
The company added that the material highlighted in the Times, including a video of a young girl in a nightie, is different from child sexual abuse imagery. “There shouldn’t be any ads running on this content and we are working urgently to fix this,” YouTube said. “Over the past year, we have been working to ensure that YouTube is a safe place for brands. While we have made significant changes in product, policy, enforcement and controls, we will continue to improve.”

Companies including HP Inc., Diageo Plc and Cadbury also pulled ads, according to The Times. Diageo, maker of Smirnoff vodka and Johnnie Walker whisky, said it had begun an urgent investigation and halted all YouTube advertising until appropriate safeguards were in place.

A spokesperson for the British arm of German discount retailer Lidl said it was “completely unacceptable that this content is available to view, and it is, therefore, clear that the strict policies which Google has assured us were in place to tackle offensive content are ineffective”.

Computers and printers company HP blamed the problem on a “content misclassification” by Google and suspended all of its advertising on YouTube globally. The German sports goods maker Adidas said it was working closely with Google on “all necessary steps to avoid any re-occurrences of this situation”.