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Anti-Piracy Group: Candidate Ads Being Paired on YouTube With ‘Illegal, Illicit’ Activity

Digital Citizens Alliance released a report on Wednesday that claims that digital ads for 2016 presidential candidates are popping up “time and time again” linked to YouTube videos that extol terrorism, push stolen credit card numbers and demonstrate malware.

The report, “Fear, Loathing, and Jihad: How YouTube Is Pairing the 2016 Candidates With the Creepy, the Corrupt and the Criminal,” includes screenshots of campaign spots for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz and an anti-Trump SuperPAC next to videos that appeared to be propaganda for jihadist groups or support for terrorist organizations, including ISIS. It also included screenshots of a “vote Trump” ad next to a series of such videos.

The Digital Citizens Alliance says that the campaign ads show up next to the videos without the candidates’ knowledge.

Last year, CNN reported on ads from major brands that appeared before ISIS and jihadi videos. YouTube has said that they “work to prevent ads appearing against any video, channel or page once we determine that the content is not appropriate for our advertising partner.”

The Digital Citizens Alliance report also identifies instances when candidate ads appear next to or before videos teaching hackers how to execute an attack, and videos advertising the sale of credit and debit card information stolen from stores. Other screenshots included ads from Marco Rubio and John Kasich before instructional videos on hacking.

The full report is here.

“While Google can predict with amazing accuracy presidential primary results, build driverless cars, and index the Internet, the company has not yet developed/utilized an algorithm that can keep good ads from appearing next to bad YouTube videos,” the report states. “No system will be perfect, but there are still far too many ads showing up next to videos promoting illegal and/or illicit activities.”

The group did say that campaigns and their ad buyers can take steps to prevent ads from showing up next to objectionable content, by using a target tool in Google AdWords to direct digital ads to specific subject matters. “One experienced buyer told us that many campaigns leave the topic group variable blank because it restricts inventory,” the report noted.

A YouTube spokeswoman said in a statement that it has “has clear policies that outline what content is acceptable to post, and we prohibit content related to dangerous or illegal activities and terrorism. YouTube’s teams review videos that are flagged around the clock, and work quickly to remove material that violates our policies. We also have 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.”

The Digital Citizens Alliance has been at odds with Google/YouTube over some piracy-related issues. Google has been in the midst of litigation against Mississippi’s attorney general Jim Hood. After a New York Times report and information that came out as a result of the Sony hack, Google claimed that Hood has been unduly influenced by the Digital Citizens Alliance, the MPAA and the law firm Jenner & Block as Hood has sought to subpoena Google over its search practices.

The alliance is a nonprofit devoted to what it calls digital safety, with representatives from labor, a consumer group and healthcare on its advisory board.

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