Google CEO Sundar Pichai insists that YouTube is improving, but acknowledged the video service still surfaces a lot of videos of dubious quality.
- "Look, we aren't quite where we want to be," Pichai told me in an interview that aired during Sunday's "Axios on HBO." (It was filmed in May, shortly after Google I/O and before the company's most recent scandals.)
- Pichai said part of the problem is Google can't yet algorithmically determine a video's merit with anywhere near the precision it can assess a search result.
The interview came before YouTube's most recent policy 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 needs to be removed, but which can still cause harm.— Sundar Pichai, to "Axios on HBO"
Why it matters: YouTube is probably the toughest issue facing Google right now, amid allegations it is fostering hate, enabling pedophiles and spreading misinformation.
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 homophobic 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 [that] 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 evaluating videos than rating search results.
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: Watch a clip from the interview