Although improvements are being made, there's no foolproof way for Google to guarantee a brand's ads won't appear against questionable content on YouTube and other sites that serve Google ads, according to a top executive at the company.
Eric Schmidt, the former Google CEO and current chairman of its parent company Alphabet, said in an interview with Maria Bartiromo on Fox Business Thursday that the company "can't guarantee" ads will not appear against content its advertisers might find inappropriate.
Schmidt's comments come after investigation by The Times found that ads from UK advertisers were appearing next to extremist videos on YouTube. Since then, at least 250 brands have pulled their ads on Google and YouTube. On Wednesday, AT&T and Verizon, two of the largest advertisers in the US, pulled their ads from all Google and YouTube services except for search.
When Bartiromo asked about AT&T and Verizon pulling ads from Google and YouTube, Schmidt said that sometimes people are able to "get underneath" the algorithms that match ads with content.
"We match ads and the content, but because we source the ads from everywhere, every once in awhile somebody gets underneath the algorithm and they put in something that doesn't match," Schmidt said. "We've had to tighten our policies and actually increase our manual review time, so I think we're going to be OK."
Bartiromo then asked if there was a way Google could guarantee people won't be able to game the algorithm again.
"We can't guarantee it, but we can get pretty close," Schmidt replied.
A Google spokesperson declined to comment.
Despite his comments Thursday, Schmidt does not have any direct involvement in Google's efforts to address advertisers' concerns. On Monday, Google's chief business office Phillipp Schindler wrote in a blog post that the company is working on ways for advertisers to have greater control over where ads appear. The blog post doesn't guarantee the changes will work 100% of the time, and it's easy to see how that could be an unreasonable promise.
But the controversy does appear to be a legitimate concern for advertisers. In its statement Wednesday, AT&T said it was pulling advertising until Google puts more safeguards into effect.
"Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms," the statement said.
On the flip side, some sources told Business Insider that advertisers are boycotting Google so they can gain leverage in future negotiations. Digital advertisers hope to gain more access into the data Google collects on users and the ability to buy ads through third-party services not controlled by Google, for example.