If you want to place a political advertisement through Google's massive advertising network during the upcoming US elections, you're going to have to show some ID first. The search giant announced new policies Friday that will require advertisers prove they are a US citizen or permanent resident when buying election ads in the States.
Under the new guidelines, Google will ask advertisers - be they individuals, organisations, or political action committies - to prove they are who they claim to be. It will also require the ads to include a clear disclosure of who is paying for it.
The change comes after Google and other social media companies revealed their advertising platforms were abused by foreign actors, including the Russian government-backed troll farm Internet Research Agency, during the 2016 US presidential election. It also places Google's policies in line with US laws for traditional media that restrict foreign entities from running election ads.
Google's update to its policy follows in the footsteps of Twitter and Facebook, which have both announced new policies that will change the way the respective platforms handle political advertisements.
Twitter last year announced new transparency efforts surrounding ads on its platform. Twitter now requires political advertisements to disclose the amount spent to place an ad, the party paying for the campaign, and any affiliations with political parties or candidates. It also allows users to see why they are being targeted by specific ads.
Last month, as part of his apology tour following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced his company would start requiring political advertisers and pages with large followings to provide information to verify their identity. Zuckerberg also announced plans to release a searchable public archive of past political ads that have run on the platform.
Both Twitter and Facebook offered their support earlier this year to the Honest Ads Act, a piece of legislation that would require online platforms to include disclosures that identify the parties placing of political ads and maintain publicly accessible databases of ads and candidates. Facebook — perhaps the biggest victim of the 2016 election interference campaign — reportedly opposed the measure privately but has since offered public support for it.
Where Google's effort falls short, at least in its current iteration, is the new policies only cover ads featuring candidates running for office. So-called "issue ads" that advocate a certain point of view on hot-button topics are not covered in Google's policies.
"As we learn from these changes and our continued engagement with leaders and experts in the field, we'll work to improve transparency of political issue ads and expand our coverage to a wider range of elections," Kent Walker, a Google senior vice president and general counsel, said in a blog post.
Most of the Russian interference efforts during the 2016 campaign came in the form of issue ads that attempted to sow discord and division among US citizens, so Google may want to get moving on that.