Google has launched a set of tools across Europe to help ensure political transparency in the run-up to the 2019 EU elections in an attempt to crack down on “dark adverts” online.
The tools are a response, in part, to the Russian misinformation campaign during the 2016 US election, in which overseas operatives were able to buy political adverts to target Americans.
To combat the rise of “dark ads”, which allow campaigners to target specific groups of people with adverts,
Google will require adverts that mention “a political party, candidate or current officeholder” to include a disclosure to make clear to voters who is paying for the advertising; verify EU election advertisers “to make sure they are who they say they are”.
Google will also create an EU-specific library of election adverts “to provide more information about who is purchasing election ads, whom they’re targeted to, and how much money is being spent”.
|Google will require adverts mentioning political parties to make clear who is paying for the advertising. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP
Lie Junius,Google’s director for EU public policy and government relations, says its intention with the tools is to “help voters better understand the political advertising they see”.
All the major social networks launched requirements for transparency in online political advertising in 2018, in part due to threats that the US Congress would make such requirements mandatory if Silicon Valley didn’t do so voluntarily.
Facebook’s own suite of tools, launched in summer 2018, are only partially operational in the UK. The full rollout has been delayed while the company figures out how to stop advertisers lying. Twitter’s tools are currently active only in the US. Google’s political transparency tools were first launched in the USin the summer.
But Britain has been left out of the latest launch. Although still in the EU, Britain is expected to have left by the time of the May 2019 elections. Britain will need to wait longer for Google to launch transparency tools domestically despite having its own local elections in May 2019.
Google’s focus on Europe may be explained by the pressure the company is facing from EU regulators.
On Thursday, a coalition of 14 comparison shopping services wrote to Margrethe Vestager, the European competition commissioner, claiming that the company has failed to comply with requirements to open up its shopping service to third parties, and urging the commission to commence non-compliance proceedings against Google.The Guardian
“Not only do Google’s users inevitably end up paying higher prices for products than they need to,” the letter alleges, “they are often left completely unaware that comparison shopping services even exist.”
In a statement, Google said: “We’ve complied with the European Commission’s order. We allow all comparison shopping services to compete equally to show product ads from merchants on Google’s Search results page.
“To help drive awareness amongst merchants who are unfamiliar with these new opportunities, we’re currently offering incentives for them to work with comparison shopping services. One year on, both services that existed before the remedy and services that are new to comparison shopping are participating successfully.”