Marks & Spencer Pulls Google Ads Over Anti-Semitic, Extremist Content

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By Nahema Marchal | 1:53 pm, March 20, 2017

British retailer Marks & Spencer has become the latest company to pull advertisements from Google platforms after reports the tech giant had allowed them to appear alongside extremist content.

The move follows a recent Times investigation which found that adverts from a number of high-profile brands had been displayed on terrorism-related websites and alongside pro-Nazi, white supremacist and pornographic videos posted on Youtube.

According to the damning report, an ad appearing alongside a YouTube video typically earns advertisers $7.60 per every 1,000 views, meaning companies were unwittingly funding extremists and inciting hatred and violence to boost their profit.

Google was subsequently summoned by British lawmakers to explain itself (technically, the company is in charge of approving users that intend to make money from advertising and ensure they comply with the site’s policies) in front of the Cabinet Office.

Among other things, MPs criticized the technology company for refusing to remove a YouTube video featuring notable white supremacist David Duke and entitled “Jews admit organizing white genocide,” arguing it did not breach its rules on hate speech despite admitting that the content was “anti-Semitic, deeply offensive and shocking.”

The UK government also imposed a temporary restriction on its own Google ads including public appeals and blood donation campaigns. A clutch of companies followed suit, including McDonald’s, Audi and L’Oreal and global advertising firm Havas, as well as three UK banks—RBS, Lloyds and HSBC—and announced over the weekend they would withdraw their ads with Google.

Explaining their decision, a Marks & Spencer spokesperson said: “In order to ensure brand safety, we are pausing activity across Google platforms whilst the matter is worked through.”

Speaking at the Advertising Week Europe conference in London, Matt Brittin, Google’s president of business and operations for Europe, publicly apologized. “When anything like this happens we take responsibility for it.”

When pressed to explain what concrete steps the company would take to flag and remove questionable content, However, Brittin remained evasive.

“Of course we’re looking again at how we improve what we’re doing on enforcement. That’s a question of resources and technology and community,” he said.

Mark & Spencer’s withdrawal is another serious blow for Google, which has a near monopoly on the digital advertising market, at a time when the company is facing a crisis of confidence amongst advertisers.

“More needs to be done now to protect the reputation of responsible advertisers on digital platforms,” Phil Smith, the director general of the Independent School Bursar’s Association, the association of British advertisers, told Marketing Week recently.

“Whatever Google’s editorial policy, advertising should only be sold against content that is safe for brands.”