Google rolls out new policies for U.S. election ads

Google announced on Friday a new set of policies around how it will verify election advertisers in the U.S. Specifically, any advertiser who want to buy an election ad on Google in the U.S. will now have to go through additional verification to prove they are a citizen or lawful permanent resident, as required by law. This process will involve having to provide a government-issued I.D. and other key information, Google says, and will roll out this week.

It will also require that ads include a clear disclosure of who is paying, as a part of the new requirements.

The change to how Google handles election-related advertising follows a commitment the company made last year to make political advertising more transparent, in response to evidence that Russia used social media and online ads in an attempt to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Another part of those promised changes – a new Transparency Report focused on election ads – will arrive later this summer. The report will detail who’s buying election ads and how much they spent. Google says it’s building a searchable library for election ads, where anyone can look up this information, as well.

The move is a first step towards Google making U.S. election advertising on the web, but only addresses ads about candidates running for office – not “issue ads.” Facebook, by comparison, had announced a similar procedure for election ads in October, then followed up by expanding it to “issue ads” in April. The issue ads are those that address a hotly debated political topic, not just those ads tied to a candidate.

Facebook says it will now work to label these as “political ads” on its network, display the “paid for” information to users, and verify the identity and address of advertisers.

Google today is saying it will do the same in the future, and expand coverage to more elections.

“As we learn from these changes and our continued engagement with leaders and experts in the field, we’ll work to improve transparency of political issue ads and expand our coverage to a wider range of elections,” wrote Google general counsel Kent Walker, in a blog post.

The post also highlighted other actions Google is taking, including the development of a range of Protect Your Election tools created by Alphabet’s Jigsaw to help those at risk of online attacks; and yesterday’s expansion of Google’s Advanced Protection program, which offers enhanced security for data stored in Gmail, Calendar, and Drive. (The protection is now available for Apple’s native iOS apps like Mail, Calendar and Contacts.)

Walker added that more changes to how Google handles political ads were still to come.

“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,” he wrote.  “Stay tuned for more announcements in the coming months.”

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