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YouTube Brand Safety Breach: The Issue and How to Respond

Published: February 22, 2019

Author: Tom Leonard

On February 17, 2019, a video was posted to YouTube showing predatory comments on videos of minors and exposing a fault in YouTube’s recommendation engine; a number of news outlets reported on it within days. The situation is appalling and grotesque and a grim reminder of the squalid internet underbelly (not usually associated with YouTube) that puts minors at risk every day. I’d like to share the steps Google has outlined to improve the safety of their platform and make some recommendations for brands that, through no fault of their own, risked reputation damage from ads appearing on those videos.
In the short term, Google has disabled comments on tens of millions of videos and removed hundreds of users from the platform, not to mention reporting them to the authorities. They are also working to change the recommendation engine to limit the spread of these types of videos and their comments. (Here’s a one-pager from Google on how they’re addressing the situation.)

What does this mean for advertisers?

From an advertising perspective, limited action is needed. Google has already restricted ad serving on millions of videos and has ensured that opting for their “limited” or “standard” inventory settings will restrict ads for serving on these types of videos. By default, I recommend that you stick to standard or limited inventory anyway, but I recommend you double-check your settings to confirm you’re not leaving yourself open to any issues.
Most of the offending videos appear to have titles in foreign languages; if the majority of your campaigns target English speakers, you likely run less risk of being vulnerable. If you’d like to  another layer of protection, you might explore negative keyword targeting for “gymnastics,” “yoga,” and “popsicle” (I’m not going into why).
Ultimately, this should serve as a stark lesson for Google in proactively maintaining the integrity of its products, and for advertisers in double-checking settings and staying on top of industry news. If you have any questions on the matter, please drop a comment.

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