As MTP readers will recall, in 2011 Google was able to buy their way out of a criminal prosecution for violating the Controlled Substances Act. The price? Chump change for Google, but it sounds like a lot of money: $500,000,000.
Perhaps more importantly, Google promised not to do it again in a nonprosecution agreement (interesting reading here) that kept its senior executives from being indicted. Tell that to the prisoners of mandatory sentencing.
It’s also important to realize that the prosecution by US Attorney Peter F. Neronha was the culmination of a multi-year and multi-agency sting operation. (See Wired’s recent coverage of the complex sting, “Drugstore Cowboy” for more background. Google has done an excellent job of suppressing press coverage of the entire episode, so you will have a hard time finding anything about the multi-billion shareholder lawsuits against Google’s senior executive team, including Sheryl Sandberg–yes, that Sheryl Sandberg–for a variety of fraudulent behaviors.)
It’s also important to realize that the sting involved a lot of ads served by Google for companies engaged in off-shore activity selling Human Growth Hormone, steriods, oxycontin and opiates. It certainly did not involve YouTube.
Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood has been actively pursuing Google on its drug problems as has Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning who said:
Google stands to make money from ads running in conjunction with instructional videos on everything from illegally purchasing prescription drugs and making fraudulent passports to promoting human trafficking and terrorist propaganda,” said Bruning. “I’m deeply disappointed with Google’s lackadaisical attitude toward Internet safety and consumer protection. The company should be held accountable for profiting from a platform that perpetuates criminal activity.”
As Diane Sawyer noted in her reporting, kids may be dying as a result.
So will you be surprised to learn that YouTube not only routinely monetizes videos that are essentially long commercials for what appear to be illegal drugs, but also has a network of how-to videos in case you needs some pointers on how to shoot up?
Another thing–some of these videos have music beds that should be barred by YouTube license agreements from recording artists and songwriters. Of course, YouTube will be happy to block them and say “You Can’t Watch Your Favorite How to Shoot Heroin Video Because Sony Music Hates You”!
Let’s start with this playlist, How to Shoot Dope: First a “how to video on how to hit the femoral vein” at home, followed by a video entitled “Femoral Fiesta”:
In the upper right hand corner of the recommended video list, you’ll see the monetized “FEATURED” video–space that is sold by Google.
Then there is this heavily monetized video, “How to Inject Steroids Properly (Official Guide)”
This one has pre-roll advertising for Huluplus and also a display ad for Cenegenics, plus another “FEATURED” video.
A later screen capture shows advertising for
Premier Care, Full Sail University, Cool Sculpting Austin and another “FEATURED” video on steroids.
Here’s another, “Injection Trenbolone Acetate” featuring Ads by Google for Apartments.com, powerabsworkout and a “FEATURED” video on “How to Use Steroids”
Here’s another screenshot of the same video, this time showing an ad with a prominent endorsement by LeBron James, another abs workout advertisement and another “FEATURED” video.
These advertisers trust their brands to Google–in the case of LeBron James, Google is not only abusing that trust but using his image to promote videos about shooting steroids.
Then we have “Bangin’ Up for Dummies” in which you get instructions on how to inject what appear to be illegal drugs:
This video which has enjoyed 30,000+ views comes with the handy comment: “A how-to guide for safe(r) injections …fight the gag reflex and check out 7:30 to watch the drugs take hold”.
Interestingly, the video has had 49 thumbs up from the “YouTube community” (I guess that was before they got popped for breaking and entering) and a big 39 thumbs down–out of 30,000 views. Not enough for YouTube to take action, however, so “Bangin’ Up For Dummies” is available in your house and on your child’s mobile phone.
Advertiser Fraud vs. Illegal Drugs
Notice that there are a few different issues here. First of all, artists and songwriters are being duped because YouTube allows their music to be posted in videos that certainly violate the spirit if not the letter of any licenses.
Google is clearly capitalizing on the steroid subculture and is treating these videos as suitable for monetizing. Try searching for any steroid on YouTube and you will likely get thousands of results (a search for “trenbolone” yields over 2000.) This may be because there appears to be a loophole in the Controlled Substances Act as described on “Off Shore Bodybuilding” (say what?)
[T]renbolone is considered safe, and is excluded from controlled substance laws, specifically because it comes in a form not useable by humans, at least not directly. Trenbolone is normally an injectable steroid, which makes using these pellets extremely difficult. No one is of course going to use a cattle implant gun to administer them, and they can’t just be taken orally, so we must find a more creative way to use them. The pellets themselves are small, hard and contain a good amount of binders in addition to 20mg of TA. Most methods adopted involve administering both the steroid and binders to the person, which should be safe, as the binders were designed for internal use and are non-toxic. Although this list could be much more expansive, below are a few of the more popular methods utilized by bodybuilders.
Ah yes, the freedom to tinker.
So the point is not that all these videos promote the use of illegal drugs, but they do promote the use of drugs in a way that may well be illegal and is almost certainly unhealthy. If you have kids, would you want them learning all about injecting animal steroid pellets from YouTube, brought to you by HuluPlus?
And this is the problem–there are advertisers whose brands are being associated with bad activities, activities that are likely prohibited by their advertising contracts.
But due to Google’s monopoly over video advertising and willingness to make money off of any form of human misery, even big brands are reluctant to challenge Google, particularly in Europe.
Even though Google likes to compare YouTube to television, this is not the kind of thing that would ever happen on television because no network would offer how to videos on “Bangin’ Up for Dummies” or “Femoral Fiesta” or “How to Inject Steroids Properly.”