Google Taking Heat from State AGs over YouTube Ads for Illicit Products and Practices

Google is being criticized by the attorneys general of Oklahoma and Nebraska for allegedly profiting from ads associated with YouTube videos that promote illicit activities.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt sent a letter (PDF) to Google general counsel Kent Walker, asking him how much money the company generates from ads related to illegal sales of prescription drugs and counterfeit merchandise, and requesting detailed information as to the steps it is taking to curb the practice.

The letter reads in part: “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. 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.”

Specific examples given in the letter include ads for “pharmacies” that promote the illegal sale of drugs like oxycontin and percocet without a prescription, videos providing how-to guidelines for the forging of drivers licenses and passports, and videos promoting the sale of counterfeit merchandise.

“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 letter states, “the how-to guide could be instrumental in the commission of other crimes ranging from under-age drinking to acts of terrorism.”

The letter asks that Google respond within 30 days with detailed information about the monetization of such ads, and warns that although both attorneys general hope to work collaboratively with the web giant to find a mutually agreeable solution, they “take these issues very seriously, and are prepared to take appropriate action to safeguard [their] citizens.”

In a statement, a Google spokesperson said, “YouTube’s review teams respond to videos flagged for our attention around the clock, removing any content that violates our policies. 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.”

This is not the first time illegal online pharmacies have caused major issues for Google; just last month the company described in a blog post some of the steps it takes to reduce the visibility of their ads. And in 2011, Google paid $500 million to settle a dispute with the U.S. Department of Justice related to taking ads from rogue online Canadian pharmacies in violation of federal law.