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Google Shuts Down Political Ads in Two States Due to Difficult Reporting Guidelines

This will hurt local challengers, not the Kremlin.

Google officeSpvvkr / Dreamstime.comGoogle, one of the biggest online platforms for advertising, is currently refusing to accept local political ads in two states: Washington and Maryland.

Blame the panic over Russian-purchased political advertisements intended to sway U.S. elections. Thanks to fears of Russian interference, some states have passed laws demanding more information about who is buying ads and how much they're paying for them.

The problem isn't the demand for transparency. It's politicians' insistence on creating hyperfast reporting guidelines without knowing if or how tech and media companies can comply. In Maryland, a new law requires online platforms to keep track of political ad buys and disclose the information to the public within 48 hours. The problem is that Google doesn't sell advertisements in a way compatible with the law. It's not selling ads with a flat upfront charge; it has a dynamic system that charges based on the campaign's success in reaching people.

So on Friday, Google announced that it would, at least temporarily, stop accepting ads for political campaigns within the state of Maryland. This follows on the heels of a similarly move in Washington a month ago, after the state enacted "emergency" rules required real-time reporting disclosure of online ad buys including "descriptions of the geographic areas and locations targeted and the total number of views generated by the ads." According to a Google spokesperson, the company values transparency but doesn't have the tools to comply with these rules as written.

It's not as though Google is resisting transparency itself. The company has been working to provide more information about online political ad buys. In May it announced it would start verifying the identities of people purchasing political ads to make sure they were American citizens or lawful residents. It's building a database of political ads that includes sources of funding and how much gets spent.

But candidates in two states are (for at least the moment) going to have to live without Google ads. That's kind of a problem. Google and online platforms now dominate the advertising market—Google brought in $95 billion in ad revenue in 2017—because they're an efficient mechanism for targeted campaigns. The Baltimore Sun explains who will be hit hardest by the suspension in Maryland:

They are especially useful for candidates in down-ballot races such as for state delegate, for whom the costs of television or radio can be prohibitive. The trade magazine AdAge calculated that from 2012 to 2016, spending on political digital ads increased 789 percent.

These rules don't impact everybody in the political sphere equally. Google's decision makes it harder for challengers with less money and connections to reach voters. The incumbents, who wrote and voted for these regulations, get the benefits. They have years of press coverage. They have war chests. They have name recognition.

And do we really think the Russians are trying to meddle in the race over who represents Rockville? The New York Times notes that the Internet Research Agency, the Russian company accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election, spent $5,000 on Google ads. Yet the panic over Russian ads (which don't even appear to have been particularly effective) has allowed these bills to sail through. Hardly anyone seems interested in considering why these regulations are being written and pushed by elected officials who stand to benefit from them.

Photo Credit: Spvvkr / Dreamstime.com

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  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Google brought in $95 billion in ad revenue in 2017—because they're an efficient mechanism for targeted campaigns.

    And the sneaky fucking Russians are all too aware of this. That's why they attacked our Democracy and denied Her the rightful place on the Iron Throne.

  • Don't look at me.||

    IT WAS HER TURN!

  • Just Say'n||

    "Blame the panic over Russian-purchased political advertisements intended to sway U.S. elections."

    Who would of predicted that this would come from Russia fever dreams, other than everyone with half a brain

  • Social Justice is neither||

    The strawman and his gang wandering the kingdom in search of a brain seems kind of fitting for Democrats today.

    I'm sure they'll uncover the Russian behind the curtain any day now.

  • Longtobefree||

    I bet you teach English, right?

  • Sevo||

    To Russki vid producers who convinced many hag supporters to vote for Trump!

  • Longtobefree||

    It really doesn't matter what is restricted, as long a more legal restrictions get passed.

  • Don't look at me.||

    And totally by accident that incumbents benefit.

  • Johnimo||

    Totally by accident! Yes ... no way it could be intentional!

  • EscherEnigma||

    Wait, so folks in Washington and Maryland aren't getting political Google ads anymore?

    Lucky bastards.

  • JoeJoetheIdiotCircusBoy||

    ^ This. Oh my god, so this!

  • vek||

    I guess the idiots in Olympia finally passed a bad law that has an upside!

  • Cro's Innumerous Basterds||

    Don't place buys for Rockville... and waste another ad.

  • CuriousKevMo||

    I see what you did there.

  • Sevo||

    "Blame the panic over Russian-purchased political advertisements intended to sway U.S. elections."

    Nope.
    Blame TDS-afflicted lefties, still trying to find an excuse for their own stupidity. Google's just responding to the media panic.

  • Flinch||

    By Kremlin, do we mean... Cupertino? Just a question, mind you. None of us exist if our info is blocked/blacklisted/polluted in search databases. Stalin would have loved that: so much cheaper than gulags or mental wards trying to take political problems off the map. All it takes is tagging of a few wrong keywords, and when relevance goes from page 3 to page 1200 of 6M hits... well, most people never go past page 20, therefore you don't exist.
    For that reason, don't worry about Russia: they are small fry at this point.

  • lulz farmer||

    I thought the free market would solve it as long as there's a profit motive, though. Weird stuff, friends.

    It's almost as if this theoretical model is purely ivory tower and other factors matter, such as control over social, political and other factors.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Ah! So Google is going to help us repeal the Nixon anti-libertarian tax-funded subsidies of entrenched looter parties? Good news.

  • Ron||

    As we know based on california juristprudence its okay to make laws that no one can comply with. A great way to silence everyone.

  • Johnimo||

    Absolutely, Ron. Aren't we lucky to have big brother looking out for our best interests. The people in Washington and Maryland are so wise, caring, and noble.

  • I am the 0.000000013%||

    What is a political ad?

    If I put an ad on the Goog promoting guns and how they are fun and cool and the salvation of the masses, is that political?

    How about a public service ad promoting anti-bullying campaigns in public schools?

    ADM promoting corn based alcohol?

    With the government so intertwined with everything, how can you separate a political ad from an ad promoting a product or particular type of consumer lifestyle?

  • Bob Meyer||

    The Russians bought a political ad so we need to pass a law controlling political ads. What could possibly go wrong?

  • Hugo S. Cunningham||

    You can't be too careful in Rockville MD. That was the site of Victor Kamkin Book Store, the largest Soviet bookstore in the World. "That is not dead which can eternal lie..."

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