We will never be able to promise 100% brand safety, says Google

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 16 April 2018

No tool or algorithm update will ever make Google and YouTube 100% brand safe and it's up to brands to "control their own destiny" and monitor their ad placement, Google head of trust and safety Arjun Narayan has said.

Speaking to AdNews at the Growing with Google event held in Singapore, Narayan said while Google and YouTube can come close to achieving a completely brand safe environment, it will never reach 100%.

“In our line of business, abuse is constantly shape shifting. We are actively anticipating the next situation but we can only get close to 100%,” he said.

“Can we get to 100%. No. Because the essential nature of the real world means there will always be abuse. 

“The last 17 years have showed us there is never a 100% safe environment, although there is close to 100% safe environment and there is best in class.”

His comments follow the brand safety crisis that plagued YouTube last year, which saw hundreds of advertisers globally have their ads run alongside harmful content, such as beheading videos from ISIS.

The scandal led to a global boycott of YouTube by the same brands, but Narayan said most brands have now returned to the platform. 

Arjun NarayanArjun Narayan

Despite not being able to promise brands complete safety on Google or YouTube, Narayan believes the network is one of the leading players in this space and reaffirmed his commitment to evolving policies and products to protect users and advertisers. 

“We always need to keep up our game because abusers are becoming more sophisticated and as they get more sophisticated, you want to be ahead of the curve,” he said.

At a Socialbakers conference last month, Singaporean influencer Xiaxue said brands shouldn’t be worried about their ads runing alongside controversial content, such as the Logan Paul suicide forest video, as it generates more media coverage for the advertiser.

When asked if Narayan agreed with this statement he shirked responsibility from Google or YouTube back onto the advertiser. 

“We’re a platform. Brands own responsibility for what content they show against. From a platform perspective we provide them with data, transparency and choices that they have to make,” he said. 

“It’s not for us to qualify when and where and what content they show against, but what we can tell you from a Google perspective is we want to make sure we are getting the brands the audience they want and give brands the choice and control where they want to show.”

Narayan said advertisers’ happiness is of course a priority, but Google must also meet its values of providing a platform for diverse content and that can help creators monetise their content. He admitted that it’s a challenge to get these three elements to align.

“Balancing these three is always complex because it’s not easy and there are tensions and trade offs,” he said.

As for Google’s journey to winning back the trust of advertisers, he said more work needs to be done.

“We have adjustments and changes to our partner program, we’re starting to work with trusted vendors for third party reporting and all of that is basically providing us more transparency and choice," he said.

“It’s a partnership offering where we tell brands that they have absolute control of their destiny and we are true partners in that journey. 

“Brands are coming back. Are we done yet? I don’t think we’re done yet but we are deeply committed to getting it right and our partners keep us honest, that’s the true spirit of partnership, and we are looking forward to making that journey forward with strong partnerships.”

Narayan also addressed the recent Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal and explained why it was unlikely to ever happen to Google. Read more here.

*AdNews travelled to Growing with Google as a guest of Google.

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