Google's Political Ad Transparency Data Reportedly Fraught With Errors

No company is perfect, but with all the data Google collects, people expect the search engine to come darn near close.

After speaking with digital staffers and consultants for a variety of political campaigns, The Wall Street Journal determined that Google’s transparency report data is “fraught” with errors.

Google doesn’t always record political ads bought with its advertising tools. And in some instances it hasn’t updated for weeks.

The report on political advertising on Google is supposed to provide details on advertising per region or country, such as money spent for specific campaigns.

Since May 31, 2018, “verified advertisers” have spent a total of $93.7 million. The top two spenders are The Trump Make America Great Again Committee at $5,361,200 and the Senate Leadership Fund at $5,124,600.

It’s not clear how much of a lag there is in the data, but one thing for sure, per the WSJ, several campaigns like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have run ads in recent weeks that didn’t appear in the Google archive. That information came from people familiar with the ad-buying process for the campaigns. These types of mistakes appear for presidential and congressional candidates in both parties, but the extent of the discrepancies couldn’t be fully determined.



Ad buyers must mark their ads as political by entering their organization’s Federal Election Commission ID or tax ID when they make the purchase through Google Ads, or Display & Video 360. It’s not clear whether there is a glitch in the system or whether someone is not entering the proper ID number when the ad buy is complete. Google told the WSJ it has safeguards to detect political ad buys by people who don't classify them properly, as the WSJ points out.

Omissions in the database could raise questions about the role of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, in the political environment.

A Google spokeswoman did acknowledge “a mistake” in reporting ads for Texas Democratic candidate MJ Hegar, who spent more than $100,000 on digital ads through Google — yet less than half of that spending was reflected in Google’s ad archive.

If this database is “fraught with errors and delays,” what other Google databases should advertisers question?

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