It’s been a tough few weeks for Google. Several companies have pulled their ads from its network after various news outlets revealed that those ads have appeared on extremist, racist, or otherwise offensive videos. But never fear. A Google executive says the problem is, actually, small. And not just very small, in fact. Not even very, very small. But very, very, very small.
In a new interview with Recode, Google’s chief business officer, Philip Schindler, downplayed the seriousness of the problem:
“It has always been a small problem,” with “very very very small numbers” of ads running against videos that aren’t “brand- safe,” says Google’s chief business officer, Philipp Schindler. “And over the last few weeks, someone has decided to put a bit more of a spotlight on the problem.”
Schindler specifically claimed the “error rates”—as in the number of ads appearing on offensive videos—“are tiny, tiny.” A Google spokesperson later told Recode: “When we spoke with many of our top brand advertisers, it was clear that the videos they had flagged received less than 1/1000th of a percent of the advertisers’ total impressions.”
But those videos, even if they were 0.001 percent of advertisers’ impressions, caused huge problems for Google—and threatened its massive revenue stream. Several outlets, including the UK Times and the Wall Street Journal, published evidence of ads appearing on racist, anti-Semitic, and extremist videos over the past few weeks, which led to several huge companies pulling their ads, including AT&T and Walmart. This doesn’t exactly seem like a “small problem,” and that much is clear from Google’s response—it announced changes to its policies to allow advertisers more control over where its ads appear, and recently promised to train its AI to better detect content that a brand wouldn’t want its ads anywhere near.
But judging by Schindler’s comments, it seems like Google is primarily concerned not with the problem itself, but rather that people are paying attention. Saying that “someone,” i.e. several news outlets, has “decided to put a bit more of a spotlight on the problem” really makes it sound like Google is a lot more troubled by the criticism than the problem itself. Schindler even went on to say that the “problem comes from the fact that somebody is aggressively putting it onto the front page.”
Ah, yes. The “problem” for Google is less the overlap of Good brands and Bad videos, and more the annoying fact that people keep talking about it. How pesky.