Epic has proactively withdrawn all pre-roll YouTube advertisements for Fortnite after it emerged that some internationally-recognised brands are being advertised on videos used by online predators to groom and exploit children.
Reports of a "softcore paedophile ring" initially came to light by Reddit user Matt Watson (thanks, PC Gamer), who was able to show how he could take a completely new YouTube account and have it exposed to exploitative content, much of which was being monetised by Youtube to advertise brands like "McDonald’s, Lysol, Disney, Reese’s, and more".
"Youtube’s recommended algorithm is facilitating paedophiles’ ability to connect with each other, trade contact info, and link to actual child pornography in the comments," Watson wrote.
"I can consistently get access to it from vanilla, never-before-used Youtube accounts via innocuous videos in less than 10 minutes, in sometimes less than five clicks. I have made a twenty [minute] Youtube video showing the process, and where there is video evidence that these videos are being monetized by big brands like McDonald’s and Disney."
"This loophole is wrong, something needs to be done," Watson added. "Its’s being monetized. [Child pornography] is being traded as well as social media and WhatsApp addresses. Youtube is facilitating this problem. It doesn’t matter that they flag videos and turn off the comments, these videos are still being monetised, and, more importantly, they are still available for users to watch."
While neither Epic Games nor Fortnite is mentioned specifically in the report, Epic told The Verge it has proactively "paused all pre-roll advertising".
"Through our advertising agency, we have reached out to Google/YouTube to determine actions they’ll take to eliminate this type of content from their service," Epic said via a statement.
A YouTube rep told PC Gamer that the videos Watson highlighted have since been removed and all illegal activity reported. "Violative comments" have also been disabled.
"Any content – including comments -that endangers minors is abhorrent and we have clear policies prohibiting this on YouTube," the YouTube rep said. "There’s more to be done, and we continue to work to improve and catch abuse more quickly."