Jun 9, 2019

Exclusive interview: Google CEO defends YouTube practices

Google CEO Sundar Pichai said in an interview with "Axios on HBO" that YouTube is improving, but acknowledged the video service doesn't ensure the overall quality users have come to expect from its search and other services.

Why it matters: YouTube is probably the toughest issue facing Google right now, amid allegations it is fostering hate, enabling pedophiles and spreading misinformation.

"Look, we aren't quite where we want to be."
— Pichai

The interview aired Sunday, but was filmed before the company's most recent scandals and its most recent changes, though Pichai alluded to the changes that were announced last week.

We, you know, we rank content based on quality. And so we are bringing that same notion and approach to YouTube so that we can rank higher quality stuff better and really prevent borderline content. Content which doesn't exactly violate policies, which need to be removed, but which can still cause harm.
— Sundar Pichai, to Axios on HBO

Driving the news: Last week, the company announced three changes along those lines: prohibiting videos that espouse one group as superior to another, changing which videos are recommended to exclude more "borderline content," and limiting monetization for creators who frequently push the boundaries of YouTube's rules.

  • At the same time, the company came under fresh fire for its handling of Steven Crowder, a popular conservative YouTube host who frequently used racial and homphobic insults against Vox journalist Carlos Maza.
  • On Tuesday, following an investigation, YouTube said Crowder's comments — while "hurtful" — didn't violate company policy. A day later, following an outcry, Google suspended Crowder from the partner program that allows advertising, saying he engaged in "a pattern of egregious actions has harmed the broader community."

In the interview, Pichai declined to give YouTube a grade on its work, but acknowledged the company has a tougher time determining video quality than it does with search.

The bottom line: "It's a hard computer science problem," Pichai said.

  • "It's also a hard societal problem because we need better frameworks around what is hate speech, what’s not, and how do we as a company make those decisions at scale, and get it right without making mistakes."

Go deeper: Check tomorrow’s Login our daily tech newsletter, for more from our exclusive interview with Pichai. Sign up here.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 932,605 — Total deaths: 46,809 — Total recoveries: 193,177Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 213,372 — Total deaths: 4,757 — Total recoveries: 8,474Map.
  3. Business updates: Very small businesses are bearing the brunt of the coronavirus job crisis.
  4. World update: Spain’s confirmed cases surpassed 100,000, and the nation saw its biggest daily death toll so far. More than 500 people were reported dead within the last 24 hours in the U.K., per Johns Hopkins.
  5. State updates: Florida and Pennsylvania are the latest states to issue stay-at-home orders — Michigan has more than 9,000 confirmed cases, an increase of 1,200 and 78 new deaths in 24 hours.
  6. Stock market updates: Stocks closed more than 4% lower on Wednesday, continuing a volatile stretch for the stock market amid the coronavirus outbreak.
  7. What should I do? Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  8. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

World coronavirus updates: Spain's health care system overloaded

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Two planes with protective equipment arrived to restock Spain’s overloaded public health system on Wednesday as confirmed cases surpassed 100,000 and the nation saw its biggest death toll so far, Reuters reports.

The big picture: COVID-19 cases surged past 900,000 and the global death toll surpassed 45,000 early Wednesday, per Johns Hopkins data. Italy has reported more than 12,000 deaths.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Health

FBI sees record number of gun background checks amid coronavirus

Guns on display at a store in Manassas, Va. Photo: Yasin Ozturk / Anadolu Agency via Getty

The FBI processed a record 3.7 million gun background checks in March — more than any month previously reported, according to the agency's latest data.

Driving the news: The spike's timing suggests it may be driven at least in part by the coronavirus.