Google to Limit Micro-Targeting on the Basis of Political Affiliation

On Wednesday, as the impeachment hearings dominated headlines and topline Google coverage focused on employees organizing against management, the company also quietly changed its policy for political advertising. 

The policy shift limits advertisers’ ability to micro-target users on the basis of their political affiliations. 

In a blog post released Wednesday, VP of Product Management Scott Spencer said Google will be “limiting election ads audience targeting to the following general categories: age, gender, and general location.” This means advertisers will no longer be able to target viewers based on political affiliations or voting records. 

“In the U.S., we have 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),” Spencer wrote. With Google’s new policy, this is no longer the case. 

The policy shift does not change Google’s approach to combating disinformation on their platforms. In October, the Trump campaign ran a demonstrably false advertisement about Joe Biden and Ukraine. The ad garnered over 12 million views on Youtube, which is owned by Google. When asked if Google’s new ad policy would allow for ads like this, a Google spokesperson confirmed it would, according to CNN Business

The political fallout to the new policy was swift. 

In response to Google’s decision, President Trump’s 2020 Campaign Manager Brad Parscale claimed in a tweet that “Political elites and Big Tech want to rig elections.” The prolific political advertiser said, “[They] won’t stop until they control all digital political speech.” 

On Friday, the Democratic National Committee released a statement criticizing Google’s restriction of micro-targeting and arguing that the company is not taking adequate steps to combat disinformation. 

The press release, a joint statement with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, calls on tech companies “to reconsider their decision to bluntly limit political advertising on their platforms.” 

Google’s restrictions on micro-targeting come as Facebook is reportedly considering taking similar measures. According to The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is discussing changing the minimum amount of people an ad can target from 100 to a few thousand. This comes amid backlash over Facebook’s repeated refusal to fact-check ads from politicians.

[Analysis: From Warren to Trump, Regulatory Oversight Encircles Facebook]

Recently, Twitter claimed it would ban all political ads, but then walked that promise back. In a blog post clarifying its political ad policy, the social media company laid out exemptions for news publishers and cause-based advertisers

The company wrote, “Advertising should not be used to drive political, judicial, legislative or regulatory outcomes; however, cause based-advertising can facilitate public conversation around important conversations.”

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