YouTube hosts a crazy amount of material, from cat videos to cooking how-tos to livestreams of presidential speeches. The Google-owned multimedia giant also provided a platform for a shady military contractor linked to the North Korean government, perhaps contributing to violations of sanctions and export controls. That was until YouTube quietly removed the offending channel on Wednesday morning.
“The situation reveals a wider problem though,” Andrea Berger, a Senior Research Associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, who highlighted the channel in a blog post, on Tuesday told The Daily Beast. There could be other dodgy North Korean contractors hiding in plain sight.
The contractor in question is Glocom, a company that sells missile navigation systems and other military products. Although Glocom markets itself as a Malaysian company, Glocom is actually a front run by North Korean intelligence agents to skirt sanctions, according to a United Nations report covered by Reuters back in February.
“Glocom’s innovative and creative communication equipment are used in battlefield of several countries,” the company’s website reads.
In her post, Berger focuses on an apparently Glocom-affiliated YouTube channel. The channel, the existence of which The Daily Beast confirmed, had four videos as of Wednesday morning. One was advertising a “tactical radio solder system;” another demonstrated a piece of radar equipment, and a third included cheap-looking CGI helicopters and tanks.
“With you in battlefield,” one of the videos displays. Glocom did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The channel was online for at least a month, judging by timestamps on the uploaded videos. The videos may have only racked up a few dozen views each, with the most popular just touching under 100, but still, for weeks this contractor’s advertisements have been freely available.
“Service providers have an obligation to ensure that they are not contributing to violations of sanctions and export controls, as outlined in the laws of the countries they operate in,” Berger writes.
Less than 24 hours after Berger published her post, and at around 9AM Eastern, YouTube removed the channel.
“This account has been terminated due to a legal complaint,” a message on the channel’s page now reads. Links on Glocom’s website to YouTube videos advertising products also stopped working.
YouTube did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent on Wednesday.
“I am pleased to see how quickly the channel was removed once it had been flagged,” Berger told The Daily Beast.
“The challenge for the private sector, especially service providers who have large volumes of data to sift through, is how to proactively identify these types of sanctions violations,” she added.
YouTube has faced other criticism recently for hosting videos advertising illegal products. Although on a different scale, YouTubers have tried to sell mobile phone spyware to viewers, explicitly to monitor their boyfriend or girlfriend—selling that sort of product can be a criminal offense.
YouTube has also had issues with how it polices content on the network. Earlier this year, data showed YouTube was leaving ISIS propaganda videos online for days or even weeks at a time. Shortly after, YouTube introduced new measures to keep tabs on and remove extremist videos. However, those approaches may have backfired: over the past few weeks YouTube has removed a string of videos documenting war crimes and other clips essential to journalists and researchers.
And as Berger notes, YouTube has removed other North Korea content before, perhaps with compliance considerations in mind, such as propaganda videos. One of those channels included clips made by the North Korean regime, and YouTube deleted over 350 videos from the channel.
“There are probably many more North Korean military companies pretending to be foreign out there who we haven’t caught and exposed yet. And until we do, they will likely be able to access the goods and services of reputable companies, unless our detection and compliance processes improve,” Berger told The Daily Beast.