Google will no longer allow adverts featuring deep fakes, micro-targetting or targetting voters based on registered political affiliation according to a letter sent by the company in the US. It will also expand its library of political ads. The decision is being seen as putting further pressure on Facebook.
The Google announcement, in common with other platforms,introduces terms and restrictions based around the current US market and political system. Adverts based on voter affiliation are already banned in the UK and questioning of the census – another restriction – is a US phenomenon. However the measures will apply worldwide and will be put in place before the UK votes on 12th December.
At present, both Labour and Conservatives are investing heavily in Google Ads which appear when users search for the names of other parties. The new policies would not appear to limit such adverts.
“Whether you’re running for office or selling office furniture, we apply the same ads policies to everyone; there are no carve-outs,” said Google Ads executive Scott Spencer in a blogpost. This is widely interpreted as a dig at Facebook which has exempted political adverts from fact-checking.
However, the company has admitted that its resources to check adverts are limited and the number that may be banned as a result of this policy will be small.
Micro-targetting is Facebook’s key advantage and only exists to a very limited extent on Google. Facebook has a vast database of knowledge on each of its users and sells this knowledge to advertisers, including political advertisers. Google will allow adverts based on gender, age and locations as small as individual postcodes – but will not permit other data to be used.
Twitter’s new policy has now been given in more detail and will ban all adverts from politicians and parties and those which are based on specific, even if they come from pressure groups or individuals. The company also aims to ban advertisements aimed at influencing legislation, but not those which refer to generic issues. Campaign groups have claimed that this means that polluting fossil fuel companies can still run ads to promote their products but that campaigners aiming to stop them will be banned.
Google, like Twitter, does not rely heavily on political adverts for revenue, generating around $128m from the US market since June 2018. But the Guardian has revealed that the company has been under-reporting poltical spending in the UK by a large factor. The newspaper claims that Labour was reported as having spent £50 in the week beginning 27th October, but that the actual figure was around £63,000. A smaller discrepancy also existed for the Conservatives. Whilst there is no indication that Labour or the Conservatives intended to mislead regulators, accurate reporting by platforms is vital to enable the Electoral Commission and public to check that parties are not over-spending on the election.