There's no need to go to the dark web to search for illegal products, YouTube has it covered. A 13-page report from a group called the Digital Citizens Alliance shows YouTube is lax when it comes to removing videos showing how to acquire illegal content including stolen credit cards, prescription drugs, fake passports, and how to find underage prostitutes from its service, with some of the videos having been up for years.
What's worse — if there is something worse than having what boils down to an illegal bazaar in one of the world's most trafficked websites — is YouTube is making money from it. Ads are tied to these videos, producing revenue, which Google splits with the poster. There aren't just a couple of videos either. Searches for "fake passports for sale" returns over 5900 results. "How to hack an ATM without a card" shows over 5700 results.
This isn't the first time this issue has arisen on YouTube. Digital Citizens Alliance did a 16 page report on the same issue last year. After the report, YouTube removed the noted videos, but the problem still persists.
A YouTube spokesman told Gizmodo:
"Our Guidelines prohibit any content encouraging illegal activities, including videos promoting the sale of illegal goods. YouTube's review teams respond to videos flagged for our attention around the clock, removing millions of videos each year that violate our policies. We also have stringent advertising guidelines, and work to prevent ads appearing against any video, channel or page once we determine that the content is not appropriate for our advertising partners."
While YouTube may be working to remove and avoid earning revenue from videos promoting illegal content, there are cracks, and money is still being made. I found a video from 2013 offering to sell bank hacking tools including ATM skimmers and information including bank logins and credit card information. That video has links to Google Play, iTunes, AmazonMP3, and eMusic selling the song featured in the video — the theme song to the game Splinter Cell: Conviction by Michael Nielsen and Kaveh Cohen — sales of which Google gets a cut of. Another video offering to sell an ATM skimmer, pinpad, and bluetooth hacking tools had links next to the description to purchase the song "100 Million" by Birdman.
It remains to be seen if YouTube will remove these videos permanently, or if this will be another case of removing them until the backlash dies down, as is noted in the latest report from the Digital Citizens Alliance. For a website like YouTube that serves over one billion visitors each month to allow users to peddle illegal products and services (some of which could be scams, but either way should be removed) while profiting on it through ads won't be something it can overlook once advertisers start feeling the heat. With ads from Target popping up in the search query "find underage prostitute", the pressure may finally force YouTube to shut down its version of The Silk Road.