Google is rolling out stricter rules for US political ads

The rules, which will kick in before the 2018 midterm elections, aim to create transparency about who’s paying for ads and to prevent foreign meddling.

Google is tightening its policy over who can buy ads for federal elections in the US.

People placing such ads must verify they are a US citizen or “lawful permanent resident,” the company said in a blog post Friday. The new policy takes effect July 10, four months before the midterm elections for Congress.

The news comes as Google and other online giants, like Facebook and Twitter, continue to face scrutiny after Russian operatives used their sites to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill have been pushing for legislation to regulate online political advertising in much the same way it’s regulated in print and broadcast. Last year, Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia and Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona sponsored the Honest Ads Act to require tech companies to disclose political ads’ targets and price tag.

Executives from Google, Facebook and Twitter testified before Congress in November to discuss Russian interference in the 2016 election. Since then, the companies have been working to ensure their platforms don’t allow the same kinds of abuses and manipulations. The 2018 midterm election is scheduled for November 6. Thirty-three Senate seats and all 435 House seats are up for grabs.

Under the new rules, Google will require people or groups buying election ads to go through a process that includes producing a “government-issued ID” as a well as information like a Federal Election Commission identification number and an IRS Employer Identification Number. Google said the purpose is to ensure that buyers are who they say they are.

Advertisers will be able to start the verification process in May. The new requirements will only apply to ads featuring candidates for federal office or current federal office holders. The policy won’t cover ads that relate to groups and issues, such as Black Lives Matter or gun control, that Russians targeted in 2016. Google said it will look into setting limits on “issue ads.” Facebook has tightened restrictions on those types of ads.

Google also said it will require more transparency around political advertising. This means requiring ads to carry a disclosure that says who paid for them. The company will issue a new Transparency Report this summer that’s specifically focused on election ads. The report will say who is buying election-related ads and how much money they’re spending. The company will also create a searchable library of election advertisements.

The company is still working to beef up security for campaigns, elections officials, journalists and others who may be at high risk for online attacks.

“For over a decade we’ve built products that provide information about elections around the world, to help voters make decisions on the leadership of their communities, their cities, their states and their countries,” Google general counsel Kent Walker said in Friday’s blog post. “We are continuing that work through our efforts to increase election advertising transparency, to improve online security for campaigns and candidates, and to help combat misinformation.”

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