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BuzzFeed reportedly started an ad campaign targeting hateful phrases before they were pulled offline by Google.


Stephen Shankland/CNET

Facebook isn’t the only tech giant having trouble with anti-Semitic ad campaigns

Google‘s ad buying program allowed ad purchases targeting racist terms and even helped the purchaser find better search terms to buy against, according to BuzzFeed News.

The news outlet reported that as part of a test, it bought ads targeting a series of phrases such as “black people ruin everything” and “Zionists control the world.” ProPublica published a similar investigation on Thursday revealing that marketers could specifically target ads to reach anti-Semites on Facebook.

When creating the phrases, BuzzFeed said Google offered suggestions to other search terms that a customer could potentially use to get better results. For instance, typing “Why do Jews ruin everything” as a potential phrase reportedly led to suggestions such as “the evil jew” and “jewish control of banks.” 

As it purchased the ads, Google would alert when a search term had “low search volume” but otherwise allowed all but three phrases for the campaign when it went live, BuzzFeed said.

This campaign, which was viewed 17 times, was taken down by Google, but reportedly only after BuzzFeed sent Google a screenshot of the campaign.

“This violates our policies against derogatory speech and we have removed it,” a Google spokesperson reportedly told the outlet after receiving notice of the test.

Sridhar Ramaswamy, Google’s senior vice president of ads, said in a statement that his team’s goal is to stop the keyword suggestions from making offensive suggestions, and that its system does have language that should have alerted an advertiser that was attempting to use the terms in BuzzFeed’s test.

“In this instance, ads didn’t run against the vast majority of these keywords, but we didn’t catch all these offensive suggestions. That’s not good enough and we’re not making excuses,” Ramaswamy said. “We’ve already turned off these suggestions, and any ads that made it through, and will work harder to stop this from happening again.” 

Google is among many companies pledging efforts toward ending ads running against hateful search terms. Phillip Schinder, Google’s chief business officer, vowed in March that the search giant would take a “tougher stance on hateful, offensive and derogatory content.”

On Wednesday, Facebook banned monetization on a list of content that includes “violent content” and “prohibited activity.”

First published Sept. 15, 11:12 a.m. PT.
Updates, 11:21 a.m.: Adds comment from Google 11:45 a.m.: Adds more background.

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