Is YouTube Mining Videos for Products to Sell You?

By James O Malley on at

Machine learning is a big deal for Google - so it is no wonder that the company is trying to add an extra layer of intelligence into everything it does. And it appears that YouTube advertising is the latest beneficiary of the technology.

YouTuber Steve Higgins spotted that one of his videos has been processed by Google's image recognition technology - and it has spotted that in the video, a book that he holds has been picked out and - surprise! - is being offered for sale alongside it.

Trying it ourselves at Giz HQ we couldn't see the overlay, which suggests that Google could be testing the technology with a small pool of users. Steve confirmed to us that the overlay appeared on screen at exactly the right moment when the book appears - and when he said the name of the book in the video. He also says that he is a beta-tester for some Google product.

As far as we can tell, YouTube advertising taking this form is a new development (do let us know if we're mistaken) - and marks a potentially lucrative new revenue stream for the company, if it can do this for all of the videos that it hosts.

The technology underlying it is not new, however. It has been used previously as part of Google Photos. When videos are uploaded to that service, they are mined for recognisable content and then are searchable to users. Clearly someone has had the bright idea to hook this up with Google's advertising system.

More broadly, this is the latest application of machine learning to YouTube. Previously the company has improved its video recommendation engine, and even improved the way it chooses which thumbnails to display.

So could YouTube be using machine learning to datamine videos for stuff to sell you? This could be old news - but this is the first time we've seen it. And we can't work out if we're impressed or scared.