Google political ad ban: the restrictions coming in ahead of the 2019 general election
Search giant follows Twitter’s lead by drastically reducing political power online
Google has become the latest tech giant to announce major restrictions on political advertising ahead of next month’s general election.
The company announced on Wednesday that political adverts would no longer be targeting voters “on any characteristics except for age, gender and broad geographical area”, The Daily Telegraph reports.
It means that political advertisers in Britain will be barred from targeting voters “based on their interests and detailed life circumstances”, the newspaper adds. When the policy changes reach the US, they will prevent American parties from uploading voter data “bought from other sources”.
Google is fast-tracking these amendments to its political advertising policies ahead of the UK general election on 12 December.
“It will take some time to implement these changes, and we will begin enforcing the new approach in the UK within a week,” said Google product management director Scott Spencer. The company plans to expand the new policy to countries in the European Union “by the end of the year”, before launching globally on 6 January.
The moves come after some of the industry’s key players announced their own crackdowns on political adverts.
How do political advertisers use Google?
As reported by the Financial Times, advertisers could target their adverts through searches and via Google’s video platform YouTube “based on email lists that they had collected”. Advertisers could also use data on the “broad interests” of Google users, such as fans of a particular sport.
In the US, Google allowed advertisers to target ads based on a person’s political leaning, the FT notes. For instance, if a person visits a right-wing news site, there is a greater chance they will see political ads from a political party with similar views.
This service, however, is not available in the UK owing to local laws.
But countries outside of the US were allowed to upload “lists of contact details” – such as a database of party members – to Google, which would then be matched with the search firm’s users so that they could be targeted directly, the BBC says.
This will now be banned under the new advertising policy, the broadcaster says. Political campaigns can, like other advertisers, continue to place ads alongside “specific types of content” - such as videos and news articles.
“Regardless of the cost or impact to spending on our platforms, we believe these changes will help promote confidence in digital political advertising and trust in electoral processes worldwide”, said Spencer.
How are its rivals cracking down on political ads?
In October, Twitter chief Jack Dorsey announced that the social media platform would be banning political ads altogether ahead of the general election.
“We believe political message reach should be earned, not bought,” Dorsey said.
The blanket ban prevents candidates and campaigns from posting political tweets, though adverts encouraging users to vote will still be permitted once the policy change comes into effect tomorrow, The Verge says.
Although Facebook initially chose not to follow Twitter’s lead, instead opting to let political ads run on its website with little intervention, The Independent claims that the company may have since changed its tune.
According to US broadcaster NBC News, Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg is “open to ideas about how to curb the spread of false ads”, which may include limiting the ability of political parties to target “narrow groups” of the site’s users.
Either way, Facebook intends to launch a dedicated operations centre in the UK ahead of the election to prevent the spread of disinformation.