The big picture: Google is making changes to its political advertising policy that will restrict verified entities from running ads that target very specific groups of people. The company says it's mostly clarifying existing rules on misleading content, but the changes will likely be very visible thanks to its vast global ad network.
Google is the latest web giant to announce changes to its political ads policy. And just like Snapchat, the search giant wants to place itself in the middle ground between the permissive rules of Facebook and the outright ban practiced by Twitter.
The company says it will continue to protect the integrity of campaigns and elections, while doing its best to surface the most relevant and authoritative political news. At the same time, it wants to improve voter confidence that political ads promoted on its platforms don't contain misleading content and are only allowed to be run by verified political advertisers.
Google outlined three key changes to its policy, which greatly limit the personalized ad targeting tools available. It currently offers three main formats: search ads that appear in response to queries for a topic or a candidate, YouTube ads, and display ads.
Political advertisers will continue to have the ability of running contextual advertising (such as on a video about climate change or a story about the economy), but they'll be limited to targeting voters based on age, gender and zip code. They won't be able to use specific location targeting and Google will explicitly prohibit targeting the election audience based on known political affiliation or public voter records.
Google wants to clarify that it holds all ads to the same standard of integrity. That means the new policy is more specific about what's prohibited, which includes demonstrably false claims that "election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died". The same applies to deepfakes that could mislead voters using manipulated content, and anything else that could "undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process."
The search giant serves ads in many jurisdictions around the world, so it wants to be more transparent about the ad spend on election ads. This means expanding beyond the US, the EU, and India, where the company currently discloses this information to the public. Starting in December, it will also expand its ads library to include "U.S. state-level candidates and officeholders, ballot measures, and ads that mention federal or state political parties."
Faced with the fact that it's the only big company to allow false advertising, Facebook issued a statement saying that "For over a year, we've provided unprecedented transparency into all US federal & state campaigns & we prohibit voter suppression in all ads. As we've said, we are looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads." A former executive says the company isn't likely to change course anytime soon, but we'll have to wait and see.
Google will begin enforcing the new rules in the UK in the coming weeks, and globally starting on January 6, 2020. If you consider the sheer scale of the company's ad network, this should have a more palpable effect when compared to companies like Twitter and Snap.