Jul 31, 2020 - Technology

Google cracks down on deceptive ads ahead of election

Photo: NurPhoto / Contributor

Google is updating its ads policies to prohibit domestic advertisers that use spammy tactics to conceal their identities and to ban international advertisers that use ads to promote illegally hacked or obtained political material — like stolen campaign emails.

Why it matters: Google alludes to the crackdowns in its existing ads policy, but the company is stating them more explicitly in an effort to rein in political and election misinformation ahead of the election.

Details: There are two updates being introduced and they apply to ads on both Google properties and YouTube.

The first policy bans advertisers that conceal their identities by coordinating with other sites or accounts to misrepresent themselves and promote content via ads relating to politics, social issues or matters of public concern.

  • While Google now requires advertisers to prove their identities, many still use spammy tactics to conceal themselves and thus hide their political ambitions.
  • An example of this could be a network of spammy marketing sites disguising themselves as local news websites and buying ads to promote what appear to be local news articles about politics, but really they are just promoting their political point of view disguised as news content.
  • By more explicitly stating this policy, Google will be able to take more stringent, permanent action across an entire network of all accounts linked to the spammy operation.

The second policy bans advertisers that use illegally obtained information to bait someone to click on an ad or use such information in an ad.

  • "Illegally obtained" information means that it was acquired as a direct result of a hack, or unauthorized access to confidential digital material, like WIkileaks.
  • Google says that the new policy does not apply to whistleblowers who have direct access to materials, confidential or not. 
  • This doesn't mean it will ban ads that discuss hacked materials, but it means that Google will ban ads that promote access to hacked materials as a way to bait people for clicks. For example, an ad that says "click to download the emails" would be banned. If the landing page an ad links to has that copy, the ad will also be banned.

What they're saying: “We believe these new measures strike the right balance in helping preserve trust in our elections while allowing for robust dialogue and public discourse about current events,” a Google spokesperson writes.

What's next: Enforcement of the new policies begins on September 1.

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