Home > Uncategorized > The Free Speech Rights of Advertisers (h/t to @LaurieSegallCNN)

The Free Speech Rights of Advertisers (h/t to @LaurieSegallCNN)

March 26, 2015

As we have seen in Google’s attempt to stop being investigated by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood and other members of law enforcement, Google are quick to cast themselves as the defenders of free speech under attack from law enforcement–as they serve ads on YouTube against ISIS recruitment videos as reported by CNN, NBC an a host of others.

The latest example is the aspirational video posted by Jund al-Aqsa promoting the group’s most recent suicide bombing attack (YouTube Distributes Jund al-Aqsa Video Glorifying Jihadi Suicide Bombers).

One group whose free speech rights were not discussed: Advertisers.  But thanks to courageous reporting by CNN’s Laurie Segall, the truth is starting to emerge on just how bad Google’s adserving platforms really are.  (See These Ads Ran Before ISIS Videos).

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NBC covered the story, but this time the reporters unfortunately succumbed to the Google Spin (Ads Shown Before YouTube ISIS Videos Catch Companies Off-Guard):

With more than 300 hours of footage uploaded every minute, and with ISIS-related videos cropping up from a variety of accounts, YouTube relies heavily on its users to flag content that violates its community guidelines. YouTube also has a “promotes terrorism” flag as an option underneath every video, and it reviews content that anyone flags.

In other words, Google’s defense is that in an environment that is 100% within Google’s control, Google is unwilling to spend the money to properly filter videos that violate laws against giving material assistance to terrorists before YouTube distributes them widely around the world through ISIS’s much vaunted social media campaigns.

And serve advertising against them, thus forcing their advertisers to subsidize terror.

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There are several steps the Congress could take that would  go a long way toward fixing Google’s unwillingness to treat advertisers fairly and honestly.  These are best summarized by Professor Ben Edelman of the Harvard Business School in his “bill of rights for advertisers” which offers a robust multi-tiered approach easily adopted in regulation and against which one can imagine little principled objection.  Consider right #1:  The advertiser’s right to say no.

Ask Advertisers Where They Want Their Ads to be Placed

It usually comes as a surprise to the casual observer of YouTube’s distribution and monetization of terror that advertisers—the true source of the revenue for Google—are kept in the dark about the ultimate destination of their ads.  As Professor Edelman says,

“It is nonsense to pay for ad space without knowing where an ad will appear; sites vary too much in user quality and context.”

Refusing to tell advertisers where their ads appear is a common practice, in fact is the industry standard.

Why might that be the case?  Is it that the adserving company doesn’t want to bear the cost of producing the information for its clients, or is it that the adserving company doesn’t want to get the advertisers’ approval.  Or take a chance that the advertiser might leave the service or worse yet—refuse to pay for advertising against YouTube videos that it had instructed Google were not to have the advertising.

Yet by producing this piece of information—no law enforcement costs to the government involved—advertisers speech rights are protected and Congress helps the market to correct for many of these anomalies.

Clearly, providing decent accounting information and true choice to advertisers is not a panacea.  But it is certainly something that Google could do tomorrow as an undeniable benefit for truth in advertising.

It is the FTC’s long held view that

“cyberspace is not without boundaries, and fraud and deception are unlawful no matter what the medium. The FTC has enforced and will continue enforcing its consumer protection laws online to ensure that products and services are described truthfully in online ads….These activities benefit consumers as well as sellers, who expect and deserve a fair marketplace.” (emphasis mine)

Requiring the FTC or other government agency to enforce such a law as part of the FTC’s “truth in advertising” regulations is a vital part of aiding law enforcement —particularly if the Congress retained oversight over the law to make sure that powerful commercial interests were not able to take advantage of special treatment by industry insiders who come through the revolving door into the agency.

It would also go a long way toward stopping adserving companies from free-riding on the brands of unsuspecting advertisers as well as the life’s work of artists.

As a never ending flood of stories are released almost daily about Google’s influence over the US. government in general and the Federal Trade Commission in particular, it may just be that the U.S. government is so far in the tank with Google that we can not expect the federal government to do its job.

That’s why it is important for Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood to succeed in at least being able to investigate Google’s seedy business practices.  While the big advertisers have enough of a relationship with Google to get the attention of the Leviathan of Mountain View, the little advertisers in Mississippi represented by the populist Hood will never get a human on the phone at Google to discuss the problem, much less the time of day.

The “little guy” can only turn to their State Attorney General when confronted with Google, a company that averages one meeting a week with the White House.  Crony capitalism and the special interests can only be defeated by sunlight brought by crusaders like Attorney General Hood.

Only Jim Hood and AGs like him can force Google to stop defrauding advertisers and to stop YouTube from pumping jihad into our homes–jihad that Google monetizes.

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