Given recent concerns and debates about political advertising, Google is trying to improve voters' confidence in the political ads.
The company announced a few changes to how it handles political ads on its platforms globally.
Google’s main ad formats offered to political advertisers are search ads (which appear on Google in response to a search for a particular topic or candidate), YouTube ads (which appear on YouTube videos and generate revenue for those creators), and display ads (which appear on websites and generate revenue for our publishing partners). Google already provides a publicly accessible, searchable, and downloadable transparency report of election ad content and spending on its platforms.
The company says it does not allow granular microtargeting of political ads on its platforms. In the U.S., Google has offered basic political targeting capabilities to verified advertisers, such as serving ads based on public voter records and general political affiliations (left-leaning, right-leaning, and independent).
Under the new ad policy, Google is limiting election ads audience targeting to the following general categories: age, gender, and general location (postal code level). Political advertisers can continue to do contextual targeting, such as serving ads to people reading or watching a story about, say, the economy.
It will take some time to implement these changes, and Google says it will begin enforcing the new approach in the U.K. within a week (ahead of the General Election), in the EU by the end of the year, and in the rest of the world starting on January 6, 2020.
It’s against Google's policies for any advertiser to make a false claim—whether it's a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died. To make this more explicit, Google is clarifying its ads policies and adding examples to show how the policies prohibit things like “deep fakes” (doctored and manipulated media), misleading claims about the census process, and ads or destinations making demonstrably false claims that could significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process. "Of course, we recognize that robust political dialogue is an important part of democracy, and no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim, and insinuation. 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," said Scott Spencer, VP, Product Management, Google Ads.
Last month, Google refused to remove an ad run by President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign on its YouTube video-streaming service that Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s campaign said contained false claims, because it did not violate the policy.
Google said that the video would still be allowed under the latest policy.
Starting on December 3, 2019, Google will also expand the coverage of the election advertising transparency to include U.S. state-level candidates and officeholders, ballot measures, and ads that mention federal or state political parties, so that all of those ads will now be searchable and viewable as well.
Google is also looking at ways to bring additional transparency to the ads the company serves.
Leading up to the U.S. 2020 presidential election, Facebook and Twitter have been criticized for allowing politicians to lie in political ads. Facebook has said that it won’t fact check or remove false ads, citing concerns about free speech, while Twitter opted for banning political ads from politicians altogether. After intense backlash, Facebook is now considering limiting microtargeting ads as well, though nothing formal has been announced.