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09 February 2017

The Times: Big Brands Unwittingly Fund Extremists And Pornographers

Some of the world’s biggest brands are unwittingly funding Islamic extremists, white supremacists and pornographers by advertising on their websites through programmatic advertising, The Times reported today.

Ads for hundreds of large companies, universities and charities, including Mercedes-Benz, Waitrose and Marie Curie, appear without their knowledge on hate sites and YouTube videos created by supporters of terrorist groups such as Islamic State and Combat 18, a violent pro-Nazi faction, The Times reported today.

The practice is likely to generate tens of thousands of pounds a month for extremists, The Times reported. Analysis by The Times of online extremist content reveals that blacklists designed to prevent digital adverts from appearing next to it are not fit for purpose.

After The Times informed Google, which owns the social media platform, it took down some of the videos. It is understood that in some cases advertising revenues had gone to the rights holders of songs used on the videos rather than to the video owner.

Several brands have accused agencies of not acting in their best interests. Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at P&G, the world’s biggest advertiser, warned last week: “We have a media supply chain which is murky at best and fraudulent at worst. We need to clean it up.”

Many of the companies said that they were unaware of and “deeply concerned” by their presence on the sites, blaming programmatic advertising,

“Programmatic advertising is a big concern for us and the whole advertising industry,” Hicham Felter, a spokesman for ISBA said. “There is a greater risk of ads appearing in violent, pornographic, extremist and other ‘unsafe’ brand environments because of the volume and speed at which programmatic trading is carried out.”

He added: “The suspicion is that the surge in programmatic trading is being fuelled by the profit media agencies can make rather than because it delivers better results for their clients.”

“This is deeply disturbing,” Chuka Umunna MP, a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said. “There is no doubt the social media companies could be doing far more to prevent the spread of extremist content.”

A Google spokeswoman said that it had a “zero-tolerance policy for content that incites violence or hatred”. Advertisers could choose not to appear against content they considered inappropriate, she said.

The six top advertising agencies each denied any wrongdoing, conflict of interest or sharp practice and said that their relationships with clients were transparent.