Google moved Tuesday to protect its lucrative advertising business by giving marketers greater control over where their ads appear online, after major clients withdrew spots that were shown next to hate speech and other offensive material.
Google has become a global advertising behemoth, pocketing billions of dollars every year from brands promoting their goods through the company’s search engine and on YouTube. But the changes, which will be introduced in the coming weeks, highlight the difficult balance between protecting Google’s advertising business while also allowing free speech.
By giving brands greater say over where their ads appears, experts say, Google is acknowledging that it has not done enough so far to police the material on its sites.
“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,” Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, said in a blog post Tuesday. “We know that this is unacceptable to the advertisers and agencies who put their trust in us.”
Google’s efforts to clean up its act show how dependent it remains on online advertising, despite the large bets its parent company, Alphabet, has made on other technologies, like driverless cars and health care.
Last year, Alphabet made $19.5 billion in net profit, a 23 percent annual jump, almost all of which was generated from Google’s advertising business.
Google’s public mea culpa follows the pulling of ads by Havas, a French advertising multinational. Havas withdrew spots for several of its clients from the search giant’s digital services in Britain after failing to receive assurances that they would not be shown next to offensive material.
As part of the advertising revamp, Google said that it would rigorously vet online content that could be considered hate speech or derogatory content. That would include giving brands greater say over where their ads would be shown online and powers to remove them if companies were still not satisfied.
The company said that it would hire more staff members to police its advertising standards, adding that it would also use artificial intelligence and other technology to remove harmful content.
“We believe the combination of these new policies and controls will significantly strengthen our ability to help advertisers,” Schindler said.
Google refrained, however, from saying that it would actively remove material before it had been flagged by users, a move that some policymakers, notably in Europe, have called for.
In a recent study in Germany, the company was found to have removed 90 percent of posts flagged as potential hate speech after it had been reported. That figure was markedly higher than those of Facebook and Twitter.
Google’s stance has come under increased scrutiny in recent months with the rise of so-called fake news and with hate speech connected to elections in the United States and Europe, among others.
Some freedom of speech campaigners have urged Google to stand its ground, but policymakers around the world have called on the company to do more to combat the spread of offensive material on the internet.