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Google to Crack Down on Political Ads Ahead of General Election

Ross Kelly



The move follows weeks of fierce debate over the role of social media and tech giants in democratic processes.

Political campaigns will no longer be allowed to target people based on details such as their political affiliations, Google has announced.

The new policies will be implemented in time for the General Election on 12th December, Google confirmed, while the same changes will be applied to the EU “by the end of the year”.

The move follows weeks of fierce debate over the role of social media and tech giants in democratic processes. In October, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey revealed the platform would no longer permit political advertising.

Speaking at the time, Dorsey said: “While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics.”

Political campaigns in the UK are unable to target people based on their political leanings. However, this is not the case in the United States, where this tactic is used heavily.

Campaigns in other nations have been able to upload their own contact databases to Google, though. Hypothetically this would allow a campaign to match these details with Google services users as a means to directly target people. From now on, Google claimed, this will be prohibited.

In a blog post this week, Google Ads’ VP of product management, Scott Spencer said: “We’ve never allowed granular microtargeting of political ads on our platforms. In many countries, the targeting of political advertising is regulated and we comply with those laws.

“In the US, we have offered basic political targeting capabilities to verified advertisers, such as serving ads based on public voter records and general political affiliations.”

Political advertisers will still be able to carry out ‘contextual targeting’, which includes serving ads to users reading or searching a story about the economy, for example.

Spencer said: “Given recent concerns and debates about political advertising, and the importance of shared trust in the democratic process, we want to improve voters’ confidence in the political ads they may see on our ad platforms.

“So we’re making a few changes to how we handle political ads on our platforms globally. Regardless of the cost or impact to spending on our platforms, we believe these changes will help promote confidence in digital political advertising and trust in electoral processes worldwide.”

The new changes will see action taken on misleading claims and statements in political ads – a move that appears to distance the firm from the controversy surrounding Facebook’s own ad policies.

Facebook has found itself subject to intense criticism over political advertising, with CEO Mark Zuckerberg seemingly unwilling to change course with current policies. High-profile US politicians have gone so far as to run purposefully misleading ads on the platform to highlight the flaws in Facebook’s policies.

“Whether you’re running for office or selling office further, we apply the same ads policies to everyone; there are no carve-outs,” Spencer said. “It’s against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim – whether it’s a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died.”

Google also announced it is “clarifying” its ads policies and adding a number of examples to highlight how it prohibits content such as “deep fakes”.

Ross Kelly

Staff Writer

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