May 24, 2024

Is This An Ad? Help Us Identify Misleading Content On YouTube

by Michael Swart, Arunesh Mathur, and Marshini Chetty

Ever watched a video on YouTube and wondered if the YouTuber was paid for endorsing a product? You are not alone. In fact, Senator Blumenthal of Connecticut recently called for the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to look into deceptive practices where YouTubers do not disclose that they are being paid to market detoxifying teas. According to current regulations, anytime a social media influencer is paid by a company to endorse their product, the FTC requires that the influencer explicitly disclose to his or her followers that they have partnered with the brand. However, in practice, influencers often fail to include such a disclosure. As we describe in a previous post, only about 1 out of every 10 YouTube videos that contain a type of endorsement called affiliate marketing (usually including marketing links to products in the video description) actually discloses that a relationship existed between the content creator and a brand. This is problematic because in videos without disclosures, users do not know that the influencer’s endorsement of the product is unauthentic and that they were incentivized to give a positive review.

To address this issue, we built a Google Chrome Extension called AdIntuition that combats these deceptive marketing practices. The extension automatically detects and discloses whether a YouTube video contains affiliate marketing links in the video description. Our goal is to help inform users of a relationship between an influencer and a brand on YouTube.

What can you do to help?:
In order to further improve the extension, we need data on how users make use of it in their everyday lives. You can help us achieve this goal by downloading the extension here and reading about our study here. We have a version for Firefox and Chrome. Then, as you watch YouTube videos, you will be notified of affiliate marketing content. For research purposes such as to improve the tool design, our detection algorithms, and to determine the best way to help people identify ads online, we will collect data in the tool about how often you encounter affiliate marketing content. (Full details on data collection here). This will help us further our understanding of how to create tools to keep users informed online! You could also consider participating in a more in depth study – details here.

How we built AdIntuition:
Building on our previous work, we look for the presence of affiliate marketing links in any level of the redirect chain that can be present in a YouTube video description. We also highlight Urchin Tracking Module parameters which are correlated with tracking links. Finally, we built a classifier that identifies the presence of coupon codes in YouTube descriptions, which are used to track users in an online shop.


  1. David C. Brock says

    Make a Firefox extension.

  2. Oh Great, you have to give up your privacy and use Google Chrome to check if Google YouTube is hosting infomercials?
    Not for Firefox or any other browser?

    • I hear your concerns. We have created this tool for research purposes so we are limited in our ability to create a version for each browser and fully understand this will not work for everyone. Ultimately we feel this kind of functionality should be built into browsers so this is a step towards this end goal.

    • The linked extension page appears to have a link for Firefox now.