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