Google Uncovers Russia-Backed Ads, Microsoft to Follow Suit

The ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated entity that bought ads on Facebook Inc.

3 min read
Google headquarters in California. 

Google has discovered that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on its YouTube, Gmail and Google Search products in an effort to meddle in the 2016 US Presidential election, a person briefed on the company's probe told Reuters on Monday.

The ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated entity that bought ads on Facebook Inc, but may indicate a broader Russian online disinformation effort, according to the source, who was not authorised to discuss details of the confidential investigation by Alphabet Inc's Google.

The revelation about Google is likely to fuel further scrutiny of the role that Silicon Valley technology giants may have unwittingly played during last year's election. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow's goal was to help elect Donald Trump.

Google has uncovered less than $1,00,000 in ad spending potentially linked to Russian actors, the source said. 

Both Twitter Inc and Facebook recently detected and disclosed that suspected Russian operatives, working for a content farm known as the Internet Research Agency in St Petersburg, Russia, used their platforms to purchase ads and post content that was politically divisive in a bid to influence Americans before and after the November 2016 Presidential election.

The Internet Research Agency employ hundreds of so-called "trolls" who post pro-Kremlin content, much of it fake or discredited, under the guise of phony social media accounts that posed as American or European residents, according to lawmakers and researchers.

Google's review had been more robust than ones undertaken so far by Facebook or Twitter, the source said.

Russia’s ad purchases on Google were first reported by the Washington Post.

Google did not deny the story, and in a statement pointed to its existing ad policies that limit political ad targeting and prohibit targeting based on race or religion.

We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries.
Google Spokeswoman

Following Google’s announcement, Microsoft Corp on Monday said it was looking into whether Russians bought US election ads on its Bing search engine or on other Microsoft-owned products and platforms, after rival Google said it has discovered such ads on its products.

We take reports of misuse of our platform seriously. We are therefore investigating and if an inappropriate activity is found, we will take steps to minimise such misuse in the future.
Microsoft Representative, in an Email to Reuters

Facebook also announced last month that it had unearthed $1,00,000 in spending by the Internet Research Agency and, under pressure from lawmakers, has pledged to be more transparent about how its ads are purchased and targeted from now on.

Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have said Russia intended to sow discord in the United States, spread propaganda and sway the election. Some Democrats plan to introduce legislation to require internet companies to disclose more information about political ad purchases on their platforms.

If Vladimir Putin is using Facebook or Google or Twitter to, in effect, destroy our democracy, the American people should know about it.
Richard Blumenthal, Democratic Senator

(This article was published in arrangement with Reuters.)

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