Google And Facebook Settle Complaints Over Political Ads

Facebook and Google agreed to pay more than $450,000 to settle allegations that they failed to comply with a Washington state law regarding political ad disclosures, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.

“Whether you are a small-town newspaper or a large corporation, Washington’s political advertising disclosure laws apply to everyone,” Ferguson stated this week.

Google will pay $200,000 and $17,000 in attorney's fees and costs, while Facebook will pay $200,000 and an additional $38,500 in fees and costs.

The settlements resolve complaints alleging that Google and Facebook failed to follow a state campaign finance law dating to the 1970s. That measure requires companies selling political ads to allow members of the public to learn detailed information about the ad buys -- including names of candidates, names and addresses of purchasers and the total cost of the ad.

State authorities say the law applies to online platforms like Google and Facebook.

Ferguson alleged in the complaints that both Facebook and Google are "commercial advertisers" -- a term defined by Washington law as companies that sell "the service of communicating messages" to the public.

Since 2008, Facebook collected $5.1 million from Washington politicians and campaigns and Google took in $1.5 million, Ferguson says.

newer state law, which took effect in June, requires that companies running digital ads make additional information available -- including descriptions of the geolocations and audiences targeted, and the total number of impressions generated by the ad. The newer law also explicitly says it applies to paid digital ads.

Soon after the suits were filed, Google announced it would stop accepting political ads in the state. The company said at the time it was assessing the new Washington requirements and ensuring its systems could comply with them.

Earlier this year, Facebook introduced new labeling requirements for political ads. It also is maintaining a searchable archive of political ads that have appeared on the service since May 7.

A Facebook spokesperson says the company will pause state and local electoral ads in Washington by the end of the year. “We're committed to helping protect elections on Facebook and have built tools to authorize advertisers and give people more information about the political ads they see,” the spokesperson says.

Last year, federal lawmakers including Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) and Mark Warner (D-Virginia) introduced the Honest Ads Act, which would require some web publishers with at least 50,000,000 monthly viewers to maintain publicly available copies of political ads purchased by groups spending more than a total of $500.

The bill would also require those web companies to maintain public records about the target audience, number of views, rates charged, and dates and times of publication.

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