On­line elec­tion ad scan­dal widens

Marlborough Express - - WORLD -

UNITED STATES: Google for the first time has un­cov­ered ev­i­dence that Rus­sian oper­a­tives ex­ploited the com­pany’s plat­forms in an at­tempt to in­ter­fere in the 2016 US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, ac­cord­ing to peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the com­pany’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

The Sil­i­con Val­ley gi­ant has found that tens of thou­sands of dol­lars were spent on ad­ver­tise­ments by Rus­sian agents who aimed to spread dis­in­for­ma­tion across Google’s many prod­ucts, which in­clude YouTube, as well as ad­ver­tis­ing as­so­ci­ated with Google search, Gmail, and the com­pany’s Dou­bleClick ad net­work, the peo­ple said, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Google runs the world’s largest on­line ad­ver­tis­ing busi­ness, and YouTube is the world’s largest on­line video site.

The dis­cov­ery is also sig­nif­i­cant be­cause the ads do not ap­pear to be from the same Krem­li­naf­fil­i­ated troll farm that bought ads on Face­book - a sign that the Rus­sian ef­fort to spread dis­in­for­ma­tion on­line may be a much broader prob­lem than Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies have un­earthed so far.

Google pre­vi­ously down­played the prob­lem of Rus­sian med­dling on its plat­forms. Last month, spokes­woman An­drea Fav­ille told The Wash­ing­ton Post that the com­pany was ‘‘al­ways mon­i­tor­ing for abuse or vi­o­la­tions of our poli­cies, and we’ve seen no ev­i­dence this type of ad cam­paign was run on our plat­forms’’.

Nev­er­the­less, Google launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the mat­ter, as the US Congress pressed tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies to de­ter­mine how Rus­sian oper­a­tives used so­cial me­dia, on­line ad­ver­tis­ing and other dig­i­tal tools to in­flu­ence the 2016 pres­i­den­tial con­test and fo­ment dis­cord in US so­ci­ety. Google de­clined to com­ment. The peo­ple fa­mil­iar with its in­ves­ti­ga­tion said the com­pany was look­ing at a set of ads that cost less than US$100,000, and was still sort­ing out whether all of the ads came from trolls or whether some orig­i­nated from le­git­i­mate Rus­sian ac­counts.

To date, Google has mostly avoided the scru­tiny that has fallen on its ri­val Face­book. The so­cial net­work re­cently shared about 3000 Rus­sian-bought ads with con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors that were pur­chased by oper­a­tives as­so­ci­ated with the In­ter­net Re­search Agency, a Rus­sian­govern­ment af­fil­i­ated troll farm. Face­book has said those ads reached just 10 mil­lion of the 210 mil­lion US users who log on to the ser­vice each month.

At least one out­side re­searcher has said that the in­flu­ence of Rus­sian dis­in­for­ma­tion on Face­book is much greater than the com­pany has so far ac­knowl­edged.

Ex­ec­u­tives for Face­book and Twit­ter will tes­tify be­fore con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tors on Novem­ber 1. Google has not said whether it will ac­cept a sim­i­lar in­vi­ta­tion to do so.

US in­tel­li­gence agen­cies con­cluded in Jan­uary that Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vlad­mir Putin in­ter­vened in the US elec­tion to help Don­ald Trump win. But Sil­i­con Val­ley com­pa­nies had re­ceived lit­tle as­sis­tance from the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity, peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the com­pa­nies’ probes said.

Google dis­cov­ered the Rus­sian pres­ence on its plat­forms by si­phon­ing data from Twit­ter, the peo­ple fa­mil­iar with Google’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion said. This was done with­out the ex­plicit co­op­er­a­tion of Twit­ter.

Google’s probe was still in its early stages, the peo­ple said. The num­ber of ads posted and the num­ber of times those ads were clicked on could not be learned.

Google is con­tin­u­ing to ex­am­ine its own records and is also shar­ing data with Face­book. Twit­ter and Google have not co­op­er­ated with one an­other in their in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

- Wash­ing­ton Post

PHOTO: REUTERS

The elec­tion ad­ver­tise­ments on Google do not ap­pear to be from the same Krem­lin-af­fil­i­ated troll farm that bought ads on Face­book.

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