YouTube Accused of Profiting From Videos Promoting Illegal Drugs, Other Illicit Activity

Attorneys general for Nebraska, Oklahoma ask Google for info on ad revenue generated from videos depicting illegal activity

YouTube is under fire from two state attorneys general who allege the Google-owned site has reaped advertising dollars from numerous videos linking to “rogue” prescription drugs sellers and depicting other illegal activity.

In a letter to Google Tuesday, Nebraska attorney general Jon Bruning and Oklahoma AG Scott Pruitt asked Google for details of how much ad revenue YouTube has pocketed from such content.

“As we understand the process, video producers are asked prior to posting whether they will allow YouTube to host advertising with the video and, for those who consent, the advertising revenue is shared between the producer and Google,” Bruning and Pruitt wrote. “While this practice itself is not troubling, we were disappointed to learn that many such monetized videos posted to YouTube depict or even promote dangerous or illegal activities.”

YouTube, in addition to videos posted by purveyors of illegal drugs including OxyContin and Percocet, hosts videos showing how to forge driver’s licenses and passports and promoting counterfeit products including weight-loss remedies, the AGs alleged.

“Not only are the activities depicted or promoted in the above-described videos illegal in and of themselves, but in the case of document forgery, the how-to guide could be instrumental in the commission of other crimes ranging from underage drinking to acts of terrorism,” the officials wrote.

Asked for comment, YouTube said in a statement, “We take user safety seriously and have Community Guidelines that prohibit any content encouraging dangerous, illegal activities. This includes content promoting the sale of drugs.”

According to Google, YouTube’s review teams “respond to videos flagged for our attention around the clock, removing any content that violates our policies.” Internet giant also said it has stringent advertising guidelines, “and work to prevent ads appearing against any video, channel or page once we determine that the content is not appropriate for our advertising partners.”

Other law enforcement officials have raised concerns about Google’s profiting from illegal online pharmacies, as well as Internet piracy sites.

Last month, Mississippi AG Jim Hood brought the issue to the fore, calling for Google to stop “aiding and abetting criminal activity and putting consumers at risk.” In 2011, Google paid $500 million to settle Department of Justice charges that the company sold ads to online Canadian pharmacies through the AdWords program.

Google outlined how it addresses rogue online pharmacies in a blog post last month. Those measures include policies to identify, block and remove ads suspected of linking to illegal drug sellers.

Bruning and Pruitt addressed their July 2 letter to Google senior VP and general counsel Kent Walker. The AGs requested that the Internet company provide specific data, including the number of videos removed from January 2011 to June 2013 because they violated YouTube policies banning illegal and objectionable content and the amount of ad revenue Google generated from those videos.

According to the AGs, YouTube removed an “inordinately large” number of videos after news coverage in early June on Hood’s concerns about Google ads for counterfeit drugs.