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YouTube Faces Advertiser Boycott Over Videos With Kids That Attracted Sexual Predators

Google’s YouTube is engulfed in a new brand-safety crisis: Several major advertisers froze spending on YouTube after an investigation revealed their spots were running against videos featuring kids in states of undress and other situations that had drawn comments from pedophiles.

Brands including Adidas, Deutsche Bank, Mars, HP, Diageo, Cadbury and Lidl pulled ads from YouTube over the issue, according to a report Friday by the Times of London. That came after the newspaper discovered the marketers’ ads had run in videos with young girls in underwear, doing the splits, and rolling around in bed — which included sexually inappropriate comments posted by viewers. According to the report, the videos themselves appeared to be uploaded by kids with no intent to appeal to sexual predators.

In response to the report, YouTube said in a statement, “There shouldn’t be any ads running on this content, and we are working urgently to fix this.”

The boycott is a replay of the global advertiser backlash in early 2017 after ads were discovered showing up in terrorism and hate speech videos in a previous investigation by the Times. YouTube has repeatedly vowed to do better, including implementing new screening processes to filter out offensive content from the site, hiring additional staff, and rolling out tools designed to give advertisers better controls and tracking of their ads.

“Until we have confidence that appropriate safeguards are in place, we will not advertise on YouTube and Google,” Mars said in a statement to media Friday.

Deutsche Bank said it suspended advertising on YouTube immediately after becoming aware of the problem. “As always, our digital marketing agency applied filters to prevent our advertising appearing alongside inappropriate content, and we are investigating how the situation arose,” the banking giant said in a statement.

YouTube in recent weeks has said it’s cracking down on content featuring themes and characters that appeal to children but include violent, sexual or otherwise inappropriate themes.

In a blog post Wednesday, YouTube VP of product management Johanna Wright outlined five steps the video platform is taking to “protect families on YouTube and YouTube Kids.” Those include better enforcement of policies, blocking comments on videos featuring minors, and removing ads from videos with kid-inappropriate content.

“Across the board we have scaled up resources to ensure that thousands of people are working around the clock to monitor, review and make the right decisions across our ads and content policies,” Wright wrote. “These latest enforcement changes will take shape over the weeks and months ahead as we work to tackle this evolving challenge. We’re wholly committed to addressing these issues and will continue to invest the engineering and human resources needed to get it right.”

In the past week, YouTube said, it has terminated more than 50 channels and have removed thousands of videos under these kid-safe guidelines. That included the shutdown of Toy Freaks, a popular channel with 8.5 million subscribers that included videos of a single dad and his two daughters in distressing situations. In a statement to Variety, Toy Freaks channel operator Greg Chism responded in part, “While it is disturbing to me that anyone would find inappropriate pleasure in our video skits, I deeply appreciate YouTube’s concerns for my family and I could not be happier with having had this remarkable experience.”

Google is set to meet next week with British marketing execs after the U.K.’s ISBA advertising trade group called for an emergency meeting to discuss the issue, the Times reported.

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