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The head of Google’s EU operations has publicly apologised to its corporate advertising partners after a growing crisis over YouTube’s extremist content forced big brands such as Marks & Spencer and Havas to freeze their Google ads.

Matt Brittin, Google’s President of EMEA Business & Operations, told the Advertising Week Europe conference in London:

I want to start by saying sorry. We apologise. When anything like this happens we take responsibility for it.

Mr Brittin claimed that Google’s tools and policies were working well “in the majority of situations”, saying it was a “handful of impressions” and that the sums involved were “pennies not pounds”. But regardless of that he added: “We need to get better”.

“We have a review under way on how we can improve. We are accelerating that review.”

The advertising giant said it would accelerate its review process and rapidly make changes to its ad policies, as well as how it controls and enforces appropriate advertising on its platforms.

Currently, Google only reviews content that is flagged as inappropriate by its users. It pointed to the volume of videos uploaded onto YouTube – 400 hours every minute – as the reason for its inability to police all the content on its platforms proactively.

About 98 per cent of content flagged on YouTube is reviewed within 24 hours, according to Google. “We know we can do even more here,” Mr Brittin said, adding that Google is now investing in new technological ways to handle escalating complaints faster, thus improving its current best.

Mr Brittin says Google is also looking to modify the controls it gives to advertisers and agencies, making it easier and simpler for brands to control where your ads appear.

Google will additionally re-write its policies to raise the bar on videos and sites allowed for advertising, for example by looking at how it defines incendiary commentary and hate speech, Mr Brittin promised.

Marks & Spencer became the latest company to freeze all its advertising on Google and YouTube globally this weekend, following revelations that their advertisements were being displayed alongside videos that advocate extremism.

Major brands including international media agency Havas, the BBC, HSBC, Lloyds, L’Oreal, and Audi have already pulled their adverts, with companies such as Sky also considering an ad freeze.

The UK government has also stopped its YouTube spending, which is part of a £60m annual budget for digital advertising, until the problem is resolved.

Along with Facebook, Google controls 60 per cent of the growing digital advertising market, according to a new forecast from eMarketer. The two companies’ hold on online spending has created a digital duopoly that is upending the advertising business.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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