High street banks have become the latest companies to pull advertising from Google as the internet search company faces increased pressure to stop adverts appearing alongside extremist content.
RBS demanded that Google “fix” the problem, which was first exposed. An investigation found that ads could end up next to antisemitic, far-right and other extremist videos and literature, providing income for those that uploaded the content.
“We take this issue extremely seriously and are suspending advertising until they fix this,” said a spokesman for RBS. Lloyds Banking Group and HSBC made similar moves over the weekend.
“We take any breach of our digital advertising standards very seriously,” a spokesman for HSBC said.
The list of banks avoiding Google is expected to grow and follows a decision by the French marketing agency Havas to pull ads for 240 British clients, including O2 and Royal Mail.
The agency spends about £35 million a year on the search engine on behalf of UK advertisers. It said talks with Google broke down when it was “unable to provide specific reassurances, policy and guarantees that their video or display content is classified either quickly enough or with the correct filters”.
“We have a duty of care to our clients in the UK marketplace,” Paul Frampton, Havas UK’s chief executive, said. “Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platform and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect.”
Barclays, which does not currently advertise on YouTube, said it was monitoring the situation closely.
Sky demanded action from Google and Vodafone was weighing up its options. A spokesman for Sky said: “It is clearly unacceptable for ads to be appearing alongside inappropriate content and we are talking with Google to understand what they are doing to stop this happening.”
An analysis of advertising spending by Influencer Marketing Hub showed that dozens of extremists could have made about £250,000 from adverts.
Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of WPP, the world’s largest advertising company, said that Google and Facebook would have to begin acting with the same level of responsibility as other media companies, such as newspapers and television and radio stations.
As publishers of large swathes of online content, they could no longer “masquerade” as tech companies. “It’s no excuse to suggest they are just digital engineers . . . or that their volumes are too great to monitor,” he added.
Ronan Harris, managing director of Google UK, said the company had “begun a thorough review of our ads policies and brand controls, and we will be making changes in the coming weeks to give brands more control over where their ads appear across YouTube and the Google Display Network.”
He said Google removed nearly two billion “bad ads” last year and prevented adverts on more than 300 million YouTube videos.