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Wednesday, 05 April 2017 12:03

YouTube ad issues: US media goes easy on Google

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Google has ad problems. At least that's what numerous stories have told us over the last three weeks. But judging from the search behemoth's reaction, one could well be forgiven for thinking that all is well at the Googleplex.

But then Google's attempt to make it all seem like a storm in a teacup is probably due in part to the fact that it gets an easy ride from the American media. The way The New York Times treats Google, with kid-gloves on, is typical.

From the time The Times of London carried a story on 17 March about how British government advertisements were appearing on YouTube videos that had racism and extremism as their subject matter, the number of firms who have pulled ads off YouTube and the Google Display Network has increased by leaps and bounds.

If the American mainstream media and technology websites that matter had put the boot in — as they should — then Google would have had no option but to snap into action and at least be seen to be doing something.

But when The New York Times begins a story with this line — "Over the years, Google trained computer systems to keep copyrighted content and pornography off its YouTube service." — that is a lie and paints Google in a good light, why would Sergey Brin, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt get hot under the collar?

nyt big

The New YorK Times: needs a backbone urgently.

Keep copyrighted content off YouTube? Maybe the writer Daisuke Wakabayashi was hallucinating when he wrote that. YouTube is the biggest violator of copyright on the Internet and, unless one is wearing rose-coloured glasses supplied by Google, one can easily see that.

Does Wakabayashi not have a YouTube account to log in and see the range of pornography present on the video-sharing site, before sitting down to pen his learned treatise? Or does he labour under the delusion that reporters do not have to do at least a smidgeon of investigation before putting finger to keyboard?

The next sentence in his story makes one want to puke, so pro-Google is it: "But after seeing ads from Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Wal-Mart appear next to racist, anti-Semitic or terrorist videos, its engineers realised their computer models had a blind spot: They did not understand context."

So Wakabayashi thinks Google did not know that ads could end up on videos that are paying homage to sexist, anti-Semitic, extremist and racist themes? How old is this bloke?

But then this is the same New York Times that made a mea culpa after the 2016 elections, admitting that it had erred in its coverage in more ways than one.

The same newspaper whose famous correspondent Judith Miller planted stories from Scooter Libby and led the charge when George the younger was building his bogus case to go to war in Iraq.

The same newspaper where a reporter Mark Mazetti was leaking information about his colleagues to the CIA.

Once one recalls these incidents, then one realises that there must be some reason for going easy on Google.

It is not really difficult to reason it out. You see, the ads that Google (and Facebook) have attracted are in large part the same ones that the NYT itself would have attracted in days gone by. And the NYT may well lose even the little advertising it attracts online now, if Google were to become that much more aggressive. One reason to go easy.

Plus, the NYT did not choose to tell its readers whether it itself has advertising running on Google. Why? That would spoil the entire story, wouldn't it?

Google can easily hire a thousand talented programmers to write software that will take care of these ad issues. Else, it can hire people to check manually if needed. It has sufficient funds in the bank and elsewhere too.

Only The Wall Street Journal has done something like aggressive reporting on the subject, but then that is par for the course for this publication. The NYT is supposed to be the most influential newspaper in the US. When such an entity genuflects before Google, how can one expect the rest to do anything different?


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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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