Brands boycotted Google this past week when they learned their ads were appearing on hateful videos. The pressure could finally force the company to change.
Major brands including Verizon and Walmart pulled their ads after they were found to be appearing next to videos promoting extremist views or hate speech
It’s been a bad week for Google, with major brands pulling millions of dollars in advertising amid rows over extremist content on YouTube.
In America, telecom companies AT&T and Verizon, as well as pharmaceutical company GSK, Pepsi, Walmart, Johnson & Johnson and car rental firm Enterprise, have all pulled advertising from Google’s video sharing platform, a contagion spreading from Europe where a number of high-profile advertisers pulled out of YouTube following an investigation by the Times.
Major brands were found to be appearing next to videos promoting extremist views or hate speech, with a cut of the advertising spend going to the creators – the row has now spilled across the Atlantic to the US.
Verizon’s ads featured alongside videos made by Egyptian cleric Wagdi Ghoneim, who was banned from the US over extremism and hate preacher Hanif Qureshi, whose preachings inspired the murder of a politician in Pakistan.
“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” an AT&T spokesman said in a statement. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”
Following the exodus of some of its high-profile advertisers, Google has publicly apologized and pledged to give brands more control over where their ads appear.
Sal Khan, founder of the Khan Academy, sits in the main room of his laboratory school in Silicon Valley.
After some 10,000 online tutorials in 10 years, Sal Khan still starts most days at his office desk in Silicon Valley, recording himself solving math problems for his Khan Academy YouTube channel.
“OK, let F of X equal A times X to the N plus,” he says cheerfully as he begins his latest.
Khan Academy has helped millions of people around the world — perhaps hundreds of millions — learn math, science and other subjects for free.
But these days, just one flight of stairs down from his office, there is a real school that couldn’t be more different in form and structure from those online lectures.
Most Fridays, the lunch option includes a Socratic dialogue with Khan himself on a wide range of issues, ideas and trends.
“So the last couple of seminars we’ve been talking about technologies that will potentially change the world,” the 39-year-old Louisiana native tells the students. “We did self-driving cars, virtual reality; we talked about life extension, and robots.”
He’s sitting on a picnic table with a small group of seventh- and eighth-graders, who are nibbling on their lunches. The seminar topic when I visited? The prospects and perils of artificial intelligence.
As of Tuesday, Amazon account holders can upload original or their own licensed videos to the Video Direct service, the Seattle-based online retailer said. Such users can designate whether their videos are free to everyone, available to rent or own, offered through a subscription channel, or behind Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime paywall.
The new service broadens Amazon’s effort to transform itself from a dominant retailer to a multimedia powerhouse, which now offers big-screen movies and television series from the likes of Woody Allen.
Amazon has been bulking up its streaming video offerings with original content and exclusive deals with providers such as HBO and Epix. Last month, Amazon dialed up competition with Netflix Inc. by offering its streaming video service as a month-by-month subscription that is a dollar cheaper than its rival.
When YouTube revealed YouTube Red, the long-awaited ad-free subscription version of its popular Internet video service, people were intrigued. They were also confused.
Viewers wondered whether they would be forced to pay to get access to their favorite videos. Video creators who had come to rely on revenue from YouTube advertising wondered whether they would make less money. And, well, there was the name.
YouTube, now a ten-year-old service, is a sprawling network of creators, advertisers, various middlemen, and 1 billion-plus viewers—a range of players both big and small, all with different motivations. And now that the initial excitement around the launch of YouTube Red has died down, all of them are trying to figure out where they stand on the world’s biggest video platform.
They have reason to be optimistic. If YouTube Red succeeds, it could mean a better YouTube for everyone. Creators could have more control over their content. The middlemen who support them could make more money. Viewers get to watch YouTube without ads. And, it turns out, getting rid of ads on YouTube in favor of $9.99-a-month subscriptions could wind up being better for YouTube itself.
Facebook responded to such concerns in a blog post today, saying that it will soon be testing a “new video matching technology,” allowing video partners to check whether their content has been uploaded without their consent.
“This technology is tailored to our platform, and will allow these creators to identify matches of their videos on Facebook across Pages, profiles, groups, and geographies,” the company explained in the post. “Our matching tool will evaluate millions of video uploads quickly and accurately, and when matches are surfaced, publishers will be able to report them to us for removal.”
During its testing period, the service will be available to several media companies, multi-channel networks, and individual video creators, Facebook says. But it plans to make the tech available to more partners in the future.
The tech sounds a whole lot like what YouTube uses to keep copyright owners happy. Developed in 2007, YouTube’s system, called Content ID, allows creators to discover when any audio or video content they own is uploaded without their consent. When that happens, users can then choose to have it removed, monitored, or monetized by ads placed by YouTube.
EXPOSING THE MURKY WORLD OF ONLINE ADS AIMED AT KIDS
When YouTube released an app specifically for kids a couple months back, many parents rejoiced. If the app worked as promised, they’d have to worry less about their kids stumbling onto grown-up content on the video network, much less on cable’s carnival of depravity. But a more insidious threat may be afoot in this supposedly innocent walled-off world.
At least, that’s the claim of 10 consumer watchdog groups who filed a joint complaint today with the Federal Trade Commission over the YouTube Kids app, claiming it misleads parents and violates rules on “unfair and deceptive marketing” for kids.
YouTube launched their kid-targeted app in February in the hopes of offering “a safer and easier” way for tots to find shows like Reading Rainbow and Thomas the Tank Engine online. The app promised to limit content to family-friendly videos, channels, and educational clips—a concept pretty much lauded by parents. But child advocacy groups say YouTube is deceiving kids by mixing ads and content without clear delineations.
That may or may not be the case. But in raising the issue at all, the complaint casts light on a wider concern. When it comes to advertising to kids, the rules for the internet are fuzzier than the tightly regulated world of television, in large part because internet advertising itself is always changing. In the meantime, kids could be left vulnerable.
Blurring the Boundaries
The White House’s YouTube account just published a video interview between President Obama and reporter, author, and creator of HBO crime drama The Wire, David Simon. Simon is the interviewee, and speaks frankly about the nation’s policing problems, from the drug war to over-incarceration.
As I get older, I’m starting to think the best way to predict a tech trend’s success is by how little I understand it. Right now, the app at the top of that list is Snapchat. I’ve tried to use its disappearing messages a few times, and I’ve watched a few “Snapchat Stories,” which—as best I can tell—are like Vines except they go away. And I honestly don’t get it.
But Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel isn’t losing sleep over my lack of comprehension. Last week, Bloomberg reported that Snapchat was seeking to raise as much as $500 million in a financing round that would value the company as high as $19 billion. The amount may seem vast to aging pundits like myself whose memory banks include dim recollections of the 1970s. But it’s exactly my fast-approaching irrelevance as a tech consumer that makes 11 figures a totally reasonable sum for a startup run by a 24-year-old that has only the dimmest plans for making money
Tech is about the future. And judging by the recent past, the future looks like Snapchat.
Before Snapchat’s valuation, $19 billion stood out in Silicon Valley lore as the price Facebook paid for messaging service WhatsApp. The figure was later revised upward to about $22 billion. Either total seems like a ridiculous amount for another company that hardly made any money. But a year later, the deal is starting to look like a steal.
At the time it was bought, WhatsApp reported 450 million users on the service. Just after New Year’s 2015, WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum said his company now had 700 million monthly active users—an increase of nearly 56 percent. Sure, WhatsApp lost $138 million last year. But that’s less than a dollar spent for every user gained. In all, Facebook spent about $49 per user at the time it bought WhatsApp. At WhatsApp’s current user base, that cost goes down to less than $32 per user.
If Snapchat really does reach critical mass with teen users just coming into their own as digital consumers, the network effect could be explosive.
That price puts WhatsApp in the vicinity of two of the greatest bargains in recent tech history. Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 for $1 billion, or a little less than $29 per user. At the time, the photo-sharing app had about 35 million active users. It now has 300 million.
The other most relevant point of comparison is YouTube, which Google bought in 2006 for $1.65 billion. Shortly before the purchase, YouTube was reportedly seeing 19 million visitors to the site monthly, or nearly $87 per visitor. Today, YouTube reports more than 1 billion visitors, and estimates peg its ad revenue at $1 billion annually.
As a private company, Snapchat doesn’t reveal how many users it has. The Wall Street Journal puts the number at more than 100 million. That would peg the price of each user at the valuation Snapchat is currently seeking at $190, or a lot more than WhatsApp, Instagram, or YouTube. But Snapchat shares with all three a product that appeals to a global audience of millennials and teenagers and that works best on the mobile devices that audience prefers.
To be sure, Snapchat could hit a saturation point like Twitter and level off below the 300 million user mark. But Twitter is where oldsters such as myself like to play. If Snapchat really does reach critical mass with teen users just coming into their own as digital consumers, the network effect could be explosive.
Sure, me and my fellow fuddy-duddies might not be there. But to Snapchat and its investors, our attention doesn’t matter that much. They’re looking to the eyeballs of the future, a market that over the past decade has made billions look like a bargain.
Tunisia’s 2011 revolution kicked off the Arab Spring. Three years later, however, many young Tunisians feel that nothing has changed.
Millions went to the polls last week in Tunisia’s latest free elections, but at the same time, a rap critical of the system has been trending on YouTube, as young hip-hop artist Klay BBJ tunes in to the post-revolution blues blighting many of his peers.
Reporter: Mai Noman
Video journalist: Greg Brosnan