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Google claims it makes little money from videos with illegal or objectionable content

Although it's been criticized in recent months for making money off videos containing illegal or objectionable content, a Google company official said the search engine giant generates little income off such footage on its video-sharing website YouTube.
by Andrew Knittle Modified: August 18, 2013 at 10:00 pm •  Published: August 18, 2013
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Although it's been criticized in recent months for making money from videos containing illegal or objectionable content, a Google company official said the search engine giant generates little income off such footage on its video-sharing website YouTube.

In June, a report released by Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Digital Citizens Alliance cast a harsh light on Google's practice of “monetizing” videos that openly promote illegal pharmacies, counterfeit merchandise, forged documents and even prostitution, claiming the company should be able to prevent such videos from making it online using its sophisticated technology.

Last month, Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt wrote a letter to Google officials demanding information about how many videos “were removed between January 2011 and the end of June ... for violating YouTube policies that prohibit the posting of illegal and objectionable content.”

Pruitt, who co-authored the letter with Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning, also demanded to know how much money was made selling ads to run before the videos played for users.

In their letter, the attorneys general expressed particular concerns about Google's practice of advertising with videos produced by “foreign pharmacies that promote the sale of prescription drugs such as OxyContin, Percocet and others without a prescription.”

Videos promoting the sale of counterfeit goods and those that provide step-by-step instructions for making fake ID cards and passports are also of concern to Pruitt and Bruning, according to the letter.

Pruitt and Bruning indicated they want to work with Google to end the practice of “monetizing” videos deemed illegal or objectionable and that they are “prepared to take appropriate action to safeguard our citizens” if the company doesn't end the practice itself.

“We understand that YouTube is an open platform and that not all content can or should be policed,” Pruitt and Bruning wrote in the letter. “Nevertheless, the fact that Google actively seeks to profit from the posting of these types of videos on YouTube — a website known to be particularly popular among children and teens — is very troubling.”

‘Minimal' income

Google responded to Pruitt and Bruning on July 30, saying that it derives “minimal” income from the questionable videos and that the company removes millions of videos each year on its own.

Adam Barea, director of Google's legal department, wrote in the company's response that YouTube has removed more than 10 million videos since the start of 2011 after the videos were flagged by users.

Barea wrote that between 40,000 and 50,000 videos are removed each week due to copyright issues and that law enforcement agencies have requested and been granted roughly 18,000 removals “between 2011 and 2012.”

He said YouTube relies on its billion or so users to flag illegal and inappropriate videos. The company also uses “screening mechanisms and machine learning models to locate videos that potentially violate YouTube's policies.”

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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