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Taking A Hint From Twitter, Google Will Restrict Political Ads Too

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On November 20, Google announced it would limit political ads targeting specific audiences based on political affiliation or public voter records. Additionally, specific location targeting will be banned, however, ads will be able to target based on age, gender, and zip code.

These changes will come to the UK by the end of the year before its general election and globally on January 6, 2020.

“We’re proud that people around the world use Google to find relevant information about elections and that candidates use Google and search ads to raise small-dollar donations that help fund their campaigns,” Scott Spencer, Google Ads’ Vice President of Product Management, said in a statement. “But given recent concerns and debates about political advertising, and the importance of shared trust in the democratic process, we want to improve voters’ confidence in the political ads they may see on our ad platforms.”

Twitter will ban all political advertising effective November 22. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced the decision in October. Twitter’s move is a wide-sweeping political ad ban, while Google’s is less restricting. Google is also taking a stand after Facebook said it would not monitor ads nor take down ads with false claims. Facebook wants the government to regulate ads, not the company. This leaves Google somewhere in the middle between Twitter’s strict policy and Facebook’s hands-off policy.

Google’s policy suggests a hands-off approach and only taking action when necessary. “We recognize that robust political dialogue is an important part of democracy, and no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim, and insinuation,” Spencer said in a blog post. “So we expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited—but we will continue to do so for clear violations.”

The main forms of political advertising on Google are search ads, YouTube ads and display ads. Google claimed that it “never allowed granular microtargeting of political ads on our platforms. In many countries, the targeting of political advertising is regulated and we comply with those laws. In the U.S., we have offered basic political targeting capabilities to verified advertisers, such as serving ads based on public voter records and general political affiliations.” This specific political targeting will end.

Further, Google stated “we’re limiting election ads audience targeting to the following general categories: age, gender, and general location (postal code level). Political advertisers can, of course, continue to do contextual targeting, such as serving ads to people reading or watching a story about, say, the economy. This will align our approach to election ads with long-established practices in media such as TV, radio, and result in election ads being more widely seen and available for public discussion.” This new policy could allow for a greater distribution of ads on Google. Google stated that it will apply the same ad policies to everyone and that it is against their ad policy to make false claims. Google is clarifying and updating its ad policies, as well as providing examples for items like ‘deep fakes’ and misleading or false claims.

Google already has election advertising transparency in select places, including for the U.S. federal elections. Google provided in-ad disclosure and a transparency report. According to the report, in the United States there have been a total of 175,439 ads since May 31, 2018; ad spending for the same time frame has been $129,210,300. On December 3, Google will expand its U.S. election advertising transparency to include state-level elections, ballot measures, and ads about federal or state political parties.

After Google followed Twitter’s ad ban lead, USA Today reported a day after Google’s announcement on November 21 that Facebook is considering changing its political advertisement policy. Additionally, Snapchat said it will fact-check political ads and LinkedIn, Pinterest and TikTok said they will not have political ads.

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