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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."

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