Google Applies Machine Learning to Fix YouTube Ad Placement Problems

Google says it is implementing machine learning tools and services from third parties to reduce incidents of advertisements placed with objectionable YouTube videos.

Google Add Placement Anger

Google has implemented more measures to address ad misplacement problems on YouTube that recently prompted several major brands to withdraw or suspend their advertisements from the video sharing platform.

The company on Monday confirmed with eWEEK multiple media reports that it has begun using machine-learning tools to better flag objectionable videos on YouTube so the company’s automated system doesn’t place advertisements on them by mistake.

The machine learning tools are being used to classify YouTube videos, to flag objectionable ones and to disable ads from being placed on them. Since Google began using the machine learning tools about two weeks ago, it has already identified and classified about five times as many YouTube videos as unsafe for advertising than before.

A spokeswoman also confirmed that Google is working with several third-party vendors to vet YouTube ad placements. Among those who will partner with Google in reporting brand safety issues is Integral Ad Science and comScore Inc.

Many organizations, including the British government, Mercedes-Benz, Johnson & Johnson, Verizon, AT&T and Enterprise recently pulled advertisements from YouTube after news reports that some of their ads had appeared next to jihadist, racist and other objectionable video content.

Google acknowledged that the problem existing and it was least partly due to the sheer volume of video content being uploaded to YouTube on an hourly basis and the vast number of websites that are part of its ad network.

The company has also noted that the number of instances where its automated ad system actually placed ads next to offensive content is very small compared to the overall volume of advertisements it receives.

After the controversy surfaced a few weeks ago, Google said it would review its ad policies and implement measures to mitigate the issue. Some of them include measures to discover misplaced ads, provide safer ad placement defaults for advertisers and give brands more direct control over where their ads run.

"As part of our commitment to provide even more transparency and visibility to our advertising partners, we’ll be working with trusted vendors to provide [third-party] brand safety reporting on YouTube,” a Google spokeswoman said in an emailed statement Monday.

“We are working with companies that are [Media Rating Council]-accredited for ad verification on this initiative and will begin integrating these technologies shortly,” the statement noted.

In comments to Bloomberg News, Google’s chief business officer Philipp Schindler claimed that contrary to what some might assume only one-thousandth of 1 percent of all ads that were shown on YouTube were placed next to toxic videos. Google’s new measures will ensure that even this number is driven down further, Bloomberg News reported him as saying.

Schindler also noted that many of those who threatened to pull their advertisements from Google ended up not doing so because of the company’s efforts to address the issue.

"Many advertisers never left and many have decided to come back,” Schindler said in a statement. “While they know that no system can be perfect, they appreciate the actions we've taken and know we are taking this seriously and are committed to getting better and better."

Meanwhile, in a separate but related development, marketing and communications giant Omnicom Group has reportedly launched a new service to ensure that YouTube videos are safe for brand advertisements.

The company will review hundreds of thousands of YouTube videos daily to ensure the content is appropriate for a brand advertisement, AdAge reported last Friday.

Jaikumar Vijayan

Jaikumar Vijayan

Vijayan is an award-winning independent journalist and tech content creation specialist covering data security and privacy, business intelligence, big data and data analytics.