Beginning on Sept. 1, Google will start a huge crack-down on misinformation, a lack of transparency & the ability to amplify or circulate politically influential content.
Google is making 2 changes in its advertising policy as the US moves into the election season ahead of the presidential contest in Nov., in an effort to combat disinformation campaigns.
First, Google is updating its Google Ads Misrepresentation Policy to stop coordinated activity around politics, social issues or “matters of public concern,” by requiring advertisers to provide transparency about who they are.
As of Sept. 1, this will mean big penalties for “concealing or misrepresenting your identity or other material details about yourself,” the internet company explained in a recent post, adding that violations will be considered “egregious.”
“If we find violations of this policy, we will suspend your Google Ads accounts upon detection & without prior warning, & you will not be allowed to advertise with us again,” says the announcement.
Co-ordinated activity (i.e. the use of ads in cooperation with other sites or accounts to create viral content & an artificial echo chamber) has been seen as a hallmark of disinformation & fake-news influence campaigns.
Social media platforms have cracked down on fake accounts ever since such operations were discovered to be widespread during the 2016 presidential election.
For example, in June, Twitter took down 3 separate nation-sponsored influence operations, attributed to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), Russia & Turkey. Collectively the operations consisted of 32,242 bogus or bot accounts generating fake content, & the various amplifier accounts that retweeted it.
Advertising, however, has not been policed in the same way as content accounts on social media platforms; something that Google will now correcting.
“The changes Google is implementing around misrepresentation are timely as we come up to an election period,” Brandon Hoffman, CISO at Netenrich, explained
“Certainly, nobody can deny the power of the advertising machine for getting an agenda out there. The manipulation that can be achieved with such advertising systems can be considered tantamount to a cyber-security issue.
Putting policy measures in place & making them known well in advance is a positive gesture in the attempt to stem the tide of misinformation that is almost certain to come our way over the coming months.”
He added a rider, however: “Unfortunately policy & the enforcement of policy is subject to the effectiveness to the controls put in place to identify the abuse. This draws a parallel to other cyber security issues we see where controls are constantly are being updated & enhanced, yet the volume of security issues remains unabated.”
The 2nd change, also effective Sept. 1, is the launch of the Google Ads Hacked Political Materials Policy. The aim is to prevent hacked materials from circulating, by stopping the marketing of them, & specifically within the context of politics. This will hopefully make politically motivated extortion or influence attempts much less effective.
“Ads that directly facilitate or advertise access to hacked material related to political entities within scope of Google’s elections ads policies are not allowed,” according to Google. “This applies to all protected material that was obtained through the unauthorised intrusion or access of a computer, computer network, or personal electronic device, even if distributed by a 3rd party.”
Violators will be warned, with then account suspension 7 days later if the warning is not heeded.
“Note that discussion of or commentary on hacked political materials is allowed, provided that the ad or landing page does not provide or facilitate direct access to those materials,” according to Google.
“I speculate that Google is trying to prevent the use of political materials obtained by hacking with a strong take-down policy, so that episodes such as the DNC hack & subsequent reporting are treated in a more fair and legitimate manner,” Fausto Oliveira, Principal Security Architect at Acceptto outlined.
“That, combined with a policy that attempts to dissuade 3rd parties from misrepresenting their identity, is in my opinion a pre-emptive move ahead of the US presidential elections.
I believe that other media organisations should adopt the same standard, not only for the US elections, so that they can help avoid the spread of misinformation, stolen information, fake news & trolling, with strong take-down policies to ensure that information is factual, legitimate & protected from internet trolls.”