Categories: Security

Is It Fair To Accuse Google Of ‘Cashing In’ On Extremist Content?

The latest development in The Daily Mail‘s recent campaign against Google saw the Mail on Sunday slam the search giant for its supposed role in the killing of PC Keith Palmer during last month’s tragic terrorist attack in Westminster.

The headline of the front-page article screamed “Google blood money” and accused the web giant of ‘cashing in’ on a YouTube video showing how to pierce a stab vest similar to those worn by London’s police forces.

The video in question generated nearly 250,000 views before it was taken down and was posted by German weapons obsessive Jorg Sprave, who boasts 120,000 UK subscribers.

“The vile video was online for six months before the outrage and could be viewed for days after,” the article said, going on to explain how it would have made YouTube around £1,200 in advertising revenue.

There was also a quote from Home Secretary Amber Rudd – who has been particularly scathing of tech firms and their efforts to clamp down on extremist content online.

“We will not tolerate the internet being used to hide terrorist activities or, as The Mail on Sunday has revealed, provide information to assist them in their terrible activities,” she said.

This author is not condoning the content of the video in any way, but like the Mail’s previous criticisms that it could find a ‘Terror Manual’ within two minutes using Google, it seems hard to blame the company.

It is estimated that 300 hours of new video content is uploaded to Google-owned YouTube every minute, with hundreds of millions of hours of videos watched on the platform every day. Moderating this is clearly a challenge.

Catching one specific video amidst the noise is like trying to find a needle in a haystack and, even with all the filtering and monitoring software in the world, it’s simply impossible to stay on top of that much content all the time.  Some videos will always slip through the net.

There is one obvious difference between Google and YouTube in that the former only indexes content while the latter actually hosts it. This means Google does have a duty to monitor what is being uploaded and remove anything that is offensive or illegal, but it’s a bit much to accuse Google of ‘cashing’ in on extremist content.

With the Westminster attack still so fresh in our minds, the emotions generated at the discovery of such a video are heightened, which is only natural. And yes, destroying this content as early as possible is a serious issue, I’m not trying to downplay that. But needless condemnation of Google doesn’t go any way towards solving the problem.

It’s an easy target at present, with major companies demanding their adverts not be displayed with objectionable content. but it should be noted that progress is being made.

Last week, the likes of Google, Facebook and Twitter pledged to work harder to tackle terrorist propaganda online following a meeting with Rudd, despite stopping short of mentioning anything to do with encryption and providing backdoor access into their systems.

A shared database of unique digital fingerprints has already been created to help automatically spot terror related videos or images and Twitter has been especially active in efforts to tackle terrorist accounts.

Yes, there is still a long way to go, and pressure should be applied to the tech giants to ensure they are doing everything they can. But recent reports seem more like kicking Google when its down rather than trying to solve the problem.

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Sam Pudwell

Sam Pudwell joined Silicon UK as a reporter in December 2016. As well as being the resident Cloud aficionado, he covers areas such as cyber security, government IT and sports technology, with the aim of going to as many events as possible.

View Comments

  • Good points all around. It really isn't right to blame Google for not being tougher on extremist content when however many millions of videos are uploaded on a daily basis.

    Another thing I'd like to add is that the video Mr. Sprave uploaded was less about the knife and more about how terrible the supposedly stab proof vest in the video was. It had aluminium plating instead of steel or another material, which is much weaker than the material used in other vests. There is also no proof provided by the Daily Mail that the type of vest used in the video by Mr. Sprave was the type of vest worn by the policeman who was killed in the Westminster attack; Mr. Sprave himself said he seriously hopes that it wasn't in a followup video made in response to the article in the Mail. In addition, the police officer killed wasn't stabbed THROUGH the vest (capitalized for emphasis), instead being stabbed in parts of the body not covered by the vest.

    Now, I completely understand why the video was removed, and I'd wager that Mr. Sprave does too. However, the article in the Mail was poorly researched on multiple fronts, and was likely written to generate as much ad revenue as possible instead of delivering a proper story. Had they researched it better, they would have avoided calling Mr. Sprave 'vile' and 'depraved'; had they wanted to point out the potentially dangerous nature of his video, they should have used terms like 'dangerously irresponsible' and 'foolish'.

    • Great points Neil, it seems hypocritical to accuse Google of cashing in when The Mail's article was basically doing the same thing

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