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Google issues statement on YouTube porn ad problem, attributes it to 'bad actors'

We still have some lingering questions, though.
By
December 1, 2023
YouTube on smartphone stock photo 1
Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority
TL;DR
  • There have now been two significant instances of a YouTube porn ad appearing in users’ mobile feeds.
  • We asked Google what it was doing to prevent this from happening.
  • The company has issued a statement that answers only some of our questions.

At the beginning of this month, we caught word of a pornographic advertisement making the rounds on YouTube. Somehow, this ad — which included pornographic video and sound — made it through YouTube’s moderation system and became a live, viewable ad. Google removed it and issued us a statement on the matter.

Yesterday, the same thing happened again. A YouTube porn ad — once again featuring both video and sound — started appearing in people’s feeds. Given the striking similarities in the format of the ads, the pornographic “genre” used, and the sham iOS apps used as fodder for them, we can only conclude that these ads are a concentrated effort by a person (or persons) intent on trolling YouTube.

After yesterday’s incident, we reached out to Google with three questions:

  • Why does this keep happening? How does an ad that’s this blatant get to the point of being live on YouTube?
  • What disciplinary action is Google taking on the people who create these ads? It appears just blocking the account is not enough.
  • How can the average YouTube user prevent themselves from stumbling across these ads? What tools does YouTube offer to protect them?

Today, Google responded to us. Here is the company’s complete statement:

Bad actors sometimes obfuscate content that violates our policies to evade detection. To combat this, we invest heavily in the enforcement of our policies and are constantly monitoring our network for abuse. We’ve removed the ad in question for violating our policy against sexually explicit content and have taken action against the associated account consistent with our policies.

It’s excellent news that the ad has been removed, and it’s good to know the company has taken action against the “bad actors” involved. Unfortunately, this doesn’t answer all of our questions.

YouTube porn ads: How does this keep happening?

We do not doubt that the systems Google has in place to keep inappropriate content off YouTube, whether ads or regular videos, catch a lot of stuff before it becomes live. However, these two ads are particularly egregious. Outside of increasing the transparency of the video so that it is only slightly visible, it doesn’t appear the people who posted these ads needed to do much to get hardcore porn through whatever content filters YouTube uses.

In other words, it’s terrific that YouTube can step in and remove these ads, but how do they get through in the first place?

We have no idea who created these ads — as mentioned, the apps “promoted” by the ads are shams with phony contact info — but we are reasonably confident this is a concentrated effort to point out this severe deficiency of YouTube’s ad program. If Google can’t catch a porn video (with sound!), how good is the moderation system, really?

Unfortunately, the third question we sent to Google about what YouTube users can do to prevent themselves from accidentally stumbling across an ad like this remains unanswered. In the past, an ad-blocker would be the best solution. However, with YouTube’s continuing crackdown on ad-blocking systems, that is no longer an option.

We can only hope this doesn’t happen again. If it does, though, Google will clearly need to make some significant changes.