2021 might be a difficult year for Google. Senate Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner have stepped in to lead 11 senators in a letter that calls for Google to strengthen the enforcement of its policies regarding election-related disinformation.
This includes rejecting all ads that spread election disinformation and stop ad services on websites that spread false information.
The concerns expressed in the letter suggest that Google profits from the sale of ads spreading election-related disinformation, but it also helps organizations spread election-related disinformation to raise revenue by placing ads on their websites.
Google may have policies in place, but the senators claim the company doesn’t enforce them.
“Millions of Americans rely on Google to find voting and election-related information” and it’s “imperative for the integrity of our democracy that they are not met with disinformation,” the letter states.
Google’s policy is to reject “ads or destinations making demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.”
The letter also points to a recent study by the Global Disinformation Index (GDI) that found Google serves ads on 145 out of 200 websites GDI believe publish disinformation.
Researchers say they discovered loopholes in Google’s political ads policy, which allowed them to place ads targeted at election-related searches without going through the political ad review and verification process.
They provide one example where they paid to place ads that appeared on the search results page when users entered a search including the words “should,” “vote,” and “Biden” – these ads read “you shouldn’t, he’ll destroy this country.”
Patrick Berlinquette, president at search agency Berlin SEM, exploited a loophole in Google Ads in July. Google shortly after said it would close the gap and put safeguards in place, but according to him the ad company did not.
To experiment, Berlinquette bought the keywords “should I vote for Biden?” The ads didn’t mention the name “Biden” or the word “election,” but the intent of the searcher was to determine whether they should vote for Biden.
When someone queried the question “Should I vote for Biden?” and clicked on the link, they would be directed to a conservative website that read “You shouldn’t.”
The senators say the loophole could allow foreign adversaries to run ads with disinformation targeting elections without detection. It also allows advertisers placing these kinds of ads to circumvent Google’s ban on microtargeting for political ads.