Google updates ad policies ahead of November election
Google introduced a pair of policy updates that aim to curb the spread of misinformation and profiteering of illegally obtained documents ahead of what’s likely to be a polarizing 2020 election.
Bad actors will sometimes pose as digital marketers by concealing their identities while coordinating to spread political disinformation. The so-called marketers will masquerade multiple websites that push a political agenda as actual news content and then buy ads—often appearing as news articles—that direct traffic to their sites, Google says, adding that such tactics often target consumers in key swing states.
The second update applies to publishers who profited thanks to the proliferation of illegally obtained documents—think Hillary Clinton emails—that occurred during the 2016 election. Executives within Google don’t want to appear as if they’re also profiting from illegally obtained materials and have positioned the company to take action should history repeat itself later this year. The New York Times, for instance, wouldn’t be able to monetize a news story featuring images of hacked emails from President Trump. The publication could, however, link to a website showing those emails.
There are no federal guidelines when it comes to digital political ads. Technology companies as a result are adapting their advertising policies as it pertains to elections, with each bringing their own unique flavor to the mix. Twitter and Spotify, for instance, have banned political ads outright, while Facebook has opted for a more relaxed approach.
Google's policy change underscores the fact that ad tech companies have frequently failed in undertaking the diligence needed to vet business partners, according to Joshua Lowcock, chief digital officer at UM. “Monetization should be a privilege granted to responsible publishers, not a right afforded to everyone,” says Lowcock, who also questioned why it took so long for Google to react. “This move is overdue.”
“Google and all ad tech companies have a responsibility to stop funding misinformation and other types of dangerous content that can put individuals and society at risk,” he adds.
Google says its latest updates will take effect September 1, which is historically when political ad spend ramps up. The company adds that its efforts build on previous safeguards to prevent foreign interference, limit targeting and increase transparency. The search giant also already prohibits advertisers from concealing their identities.
“To bolster these efforts, today we are expanding our policies to prevent the coordinated spread of disinformation from domestic actors who conceal their identity and illegally obtained materials via ads,” a spokeswoman told Ad Age in an emailed statement. “We believe these new measures strike the right balance in helping preserve trust in our elections while allowing for robust dialogue and public discourse about current events.”