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July 3, 2013

AGs Accuse Google of Profiting From YouTube Ads Selling Illegal Products

Google is being accused of reaping the financial rewards from YouTube ads that promote “dangerous or illegal activities.”

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, in a letter to the technology giant, ask Google how much money it generates from ads running alongside questionable videos.

The attorneys general are particularly concerned about Google “monetizing” videos that:

• Promote the illegal purchase of prescription drugs such as Oxycontin and Percocet;

• Promote the sale of counterfeit merchandise;

• Offer step-by-step instructions on forging drivers licenses and passports.

“As we understand the process, video producers are asked prior to posting whether they will allow YouTube to host advertising with the video and, for those who consent, the advertising revenue is shared between the producer and Google,” reads the letter from Bruning and Pruitt.

“While this practice itself is not troubling, we were disappointed to learn that many such monetized videos posted to YouTube depict or even promote dangerous or illegal activities.”

“Not only are the activities depicted or promoted in the above-described videos illegal in and of themselves, but in the case of document forgery, the how-to guide could be instrumental in the commission of other crimes ranging from under-age drinking to acts of terrorism,” they wrote.

Bruning and Pruitt are now asking Google to provide more information on what, if anything, the company is doing to not only avoid promoting questionable videos with advertising but what steps it is taking to ensure such videos are removed from YouTube.

The request from the attorneys general comes less than one month after several other attorneys general, led by Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood, accused Google of making it too easy for cyber-criminals to peddle illegal drugs and pirated music, movies and video games online.

Hood’s group of attorneys general contends that Google auto-complete can lead users to sites that “sell counterfeit goods” because these sites appear at the top of the search results.

Hood had invited Google CEO Larry Page to the National Association of Attorneys General 2013 summer meeting, held last month, to discuss the issue but Google’s “lack of response” has spurred the attorney general to not only subpoena Google’s records and e-mails but to get the Department of Justice involved.

Google later responded to Hood’s concerns in a letter dated June 26, but Bruning and Pruitt say the information provided by the search engine firm failed to “adequately address our concerns.”

“It is our sincere hope to work collaboratively with you to find an agreeable solution to the concerns set forth in this letter,” reads the letter to Google. “Nevertheless, we feel that you should know at the outset we take these issues very seriously and are prepared to take appropriate action to safeguard our citizens.”

In a prepared statement for the press Google says YouTube’s guidelines forbid the posting of any video that encourages illegal activities.

“YouTube’s review teams respond to videos flagged for our attention around the clock, removing any content that violates our policies,” reads a statement from a Google spokesperson. “We also have stringent advertising guidelines, and work to prevent ads appearing against any video, channel or page once we determine that the content is not appropriate for our advertising partners.”


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