When a number of UK advertisers that their ads were, or could be, running on “extremist content,” they pulled their advertising dollars out of Google’s programmatic ad network.

That includes ads that appear on YouTube, but does not include search ads.

According to the Guardian, that inappropriate content included YouTube videos of American white nationalists, a hate preacher banned in the UK, and a controversial Islamist preacher. The Guardian also found that its content was appearing on offensive sites.

The problem seems to have arisen through use of AdX, Google’s DoubleClick Ad Exchange service, which uses a process called programmatic trading. This process automates the process of buying and selling advertising online, but it is becoming controversial due to concerns that it supports extremist material.

On March 22, American advertisers AT&T and Johnson & Johnson, along with several other companies, also pulled their ads from Google’s network. Car rental company Enterprise announced that it would temporarily halt YouTube spending, and Verizon said it would suspend “all digital nonsearch advertising inventory” after learning that its ads “were appearing on nonsanctioned websites.”

AT&T said in its statement, “We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate. Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s nonsearch platforms.”

Johnson & Johnson said in its statement about pulling nonsearch ads from Google, “We take this matter very seriously and will continue to take every measure to ensure our brand advertising is consistent with our brand values.”

The day before the companies pulled their ads, Google responded to the European boycott by giving advertisers greater control over where their content appears, which seems to acknowledge that Google knows it hasn’t done enough to vet the content that appears on its sites. It also said it would hire more people to personally review content.

“Recently, we had a number of cases where brands’ ads appeared on content that was not aligned with their values. For this, we deeply apologize. We knew that this is unacceptable to the advertisers and agencies who put their trust in us,” Google’s Chief Business Officer, Philipp Schindler, wrote in a recent blog post.

“Starting today, we’re taking a tougher stance on hateful, offensive, and derogatory content. This includes removing ads more effectively from content that is attacking or harassing people based on their race, religion, gender, or similar categories,” Schindler continued. “This change will enable us to take action, where appropriate, on a larger set of ads and sites.”

But some advertisers see this as cold comfort.

“Although it is effective in dealing with the highly fragmented nature of the digital ad world, programmatic buying is still evolving as a business practice—and it appears that technology has gotten ahead of the advertising industry’s checks and balances,” Laura Bryant, a spokeswoman for Enterprise, said in a statement. “There is no doubt there are serious flaws that need to be addressed.”

Some businesses are seeing the Google controversy as a way to gain share in the online advertising market.

Verizon, for example, built an online advertising business when it acquired AOL in 2015, and it has made a deal to acquire Yahoo Inc.’s core business. According to the New York Times, that would give Verizon roughly 2 percent of the global digital advertising market.

AT&T is pitching itself as a new competitor to Google due to its proposed merger with Time Warner.

“Advertisers need more competition,” Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes said during conference call with analysts last fall. “This will give another outlet, not just the Google and Facebook one that’s been gaining all the traction.”

What do you think? Is Google doing enough to prevent ads from appearing on hate sites and extremist videos? Are you planning to remove your advertising from Google’s network due to brand safety concerns? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Photo: Benny Marty / Shutterstock.com