AT&T, Epic Games pull YouTube ads after child exploitation found

YouTube comes under criticism again for allowing disturbing content.

Abrar Al-Heeti Technology Reporter
Abrar Al-Heeti is a technology reporter for CNET, with an interest in phones, streaming, internet trends, entertainment, pop culture and digital accessibility. She's also worked for CNET's video, culture and news teams. She graduated with bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Though Illinois is home, she now loves San Francisco -- steep inclines and all.
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AT&T on Thursday pulled its advertising from Google-owned YouTube after a blogger demonstrated how comments on the platform were being used by a "soft-core pedophelia ring" to share child exploitation videos. This comes after  Disney , Epic Games and Nestle made similar moves Wednesday, Bloomberg News reported

"Until Google can protect our brand from offensive content of any kind, we are removing all advertising from YouTube," an AT&T representative said.

The advertising pause followed a video posted on Sunday in which blogger Matt Watson demonstrated how  YouTube  comments were being used to identify parts of videos that feature children in "compromising" or "sexually implicit" positions. Watson also demonstrated how YouTube's algorithm would recommend similar videos once a user had clicked on one of these kinds of videos. 

Advertisements for the three companies, as well as others, played before some of the videos of minors, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday. YouTube's critics have said they're fed up with the company's "whack-a-mole approach" to child safety. 

YouTube has deleted accounts and channels, removed comments that violate its policies, and reported some of the incidents to authorities, a YouTube representative told CNET.

"Any content, including comments, that endangers minors is abhorrent, and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube," the representative said.

Watch this: YouTube says it's working on growing up

The total amount spent on ads for the videos mentioned was less than $8,000 in the last 60 days, a YouTube spokeswoman told Bloomberg. 

An "extremely low volume" of ads from Nestle appeared on YouTube videos with inappropriate comments, according to a representative for the food maker. Nestle will revise its decision to pause advertising on YouTube "upon completion of current measures being taken by Google to ensure Nestle advertising standards are met," the Nestle representative said.

An Epic Games representative confirmed the company has paused its advertising on YouTube. "We have reached out to Google/YouTube to determine actions they'll take to eliminate this type of content from their service," the representative said.

Disney didn't immediately respond to a request for comment. Watson, who said in his video that he had written a report about his discovery, didn't immediately respond to a direct message on Twitter.

This is isn't the first time companies have distanced themselves from the company. In 2017, companies including Walmart, PepsiCo and Dish Network pulled their ads from YouTube after they appeared alongside videos sharing racist and anti-Semitic views. YouTube has also been criticized for failing to quickly remove videos featuring disturbing content aimed at children

First published Feb. 20 at 1:59 p.m. PT.
Update Feb. 21 at 12:52 p.m. and 1:28 p.m. PT: Adds comment from Epic Games and AT&T.