During the panel, Bruning and Pruitt said they viewed videos posted on YouTube by illicit foreign pharmacies that promoted the sale of prescription drugs, such as Oxycontin, without a prescription. They also saw video clips that demonstrated how to create forged driver licenses and passports, as well as clips that promoted the sale of counterfeit products.
All of these videos on YouTube featured ads running next to them, they said.
"It is our understanding that Google and the video poster share in the profits from this advertising revenue," the two attorneys general write in the letter.
While they acknowledge that YouTube is an open platform and not all content should be policed on the video-sharing websites, Bruning and Pruitt argue, "the fact that Google actively seeks to profit from the posting of these types of videos on YouTube — a website known to be particularly popular among children and teens — is very troubling."
In particular, the two attorneys general asked Google to disclose the number of videos that were removed over the past two years because they violated YouTube policies against the posting of illegal content. Of this number, they asked Google to say how many of these videos were monetized and the total revenue the company generated from them.
The issue has picked up steam over the last few weeks.
Last month, Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood criticized Google for running ads in its search results for websites that illegally sell drugs without a prescription, according to a USA Today report. The Digital Citizens Alliance — which recently published a report concluding that online ads and videos for illegal online pharmacies are rife on Google-owned YouTube — noted that Google pulled several illicit ads from YouTube after USA Today ran a story on its report.
Tom Galvin, executive director of the Digital Citizens Alliance, said state attorneys general have taken notice of the illicit videos and ads on YouTube because it's "blatantly obvious there's a problem."
"It's really clear to anyone, whether you're a policymaker or a parent, that there's a lot of dangerous things on YouTube and the alarming thing about it is that Google stands to profit from the ads that they run on them," Galvin said.
He hopes the recent letters that state attorneys general have sent to Google will start yielding some answers and raise more awareness about the issue.
A YouTube spokesman said the company takes user safety seriously and YouTube's guidelines prohibit content that encourages dangerous activities, including the sale of illegal drugs.
"YouTube's review teams respond to videos flagged for our attention around the clock, removing any content that violates our policies," the spokesman said in a statement. "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."