LONDON: Leading brands, including Mars and Adidas, have once again pulled their advertising from YouTube, this time following claims that their ads were appearing on videos that are being viewed by paedophiles.

A front-page story in The Times on Friday reported that brand advertising was appearing on YouTube content showing children, that, while legal – and often posted by the children themselves – has attracted paedophiles who use the comments section to make inappropriate remarks and exchange links with each other.

“Sexualised images of children in swimwear or underwear are popular among paedophiles because it isn’t always illegal; they can go on mainstream platforms and get their fix,” Einar Otto Stangvik, a Norwegian security expert, told The Times.

“There is a risk that these videos will end up on the dark web or in abuse-related discussion groups.”

Adidas, Mars, HP, Diageo, Cadbury, Deutsche Bank and Lidl were among the brands which pulled campaigns hours ahead of Black Friday, The Times said.

“We have taken the decision to immediately suspend all our online advertising on YouTube and Google globally,” Mars told Sky News, adding that it was working with Google and its media buying agencies “to understand what went wrong”.

While YouTube issued the expected apologies and said it was “working urgently to fix this”, The Times quoted a Google “flagger” who suggested that “YouTube know the scale” of the problem and had failed to take action.

Anne Longfield, the UK’s children’s commissioner, accused the video platform of complacency. “Of course we have had statements this time, and have had them many times before, that there is a commitment to safety, but I don’t think that commitment shows through into action,” she told the BBC.

“I can bring pressure on government to act on this,” she warned. “And of course regulation is there looming if companies don’t self-regulate themselves.”

In February, The Times sparked a similar review of digital advertising when it reported that brands’ ads had been appearing on extremist websites.

Sourced from The Times, Sky News; additional content by WARC staff