NEWS21 November 2019

Google updates political ad rules

Data analytics Election 2019 Europe News Technology UK

US – Google has updated its policy on political advertising, saying it will no longer allow election ads to target audiences based on their political affiliation.


Advertisers will be limited to targeting election ads based on age, gender and post code only. They will still be able to target users contextually – for example, based on what content people are reading or watching.

Targeting users based on public voter records and political affiliation was only previously allowed in the US, so that policy will not change in the UK.

Google also said it is “clarifying” its advertising policies and adding examples to show how it prohibits so-called ‘deep fakes’ (doctored media) and ads making false claims that could “significantly undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process”.

The company said: “We apply the same ads policies to everyone; there are no carve-outs. It’s against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim — whether it’s a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed, or that a candidate has died.”

The changes, announced by the company yesterday ( 20th November), will come into effect in the UK “within a week”, ahead of the general election on 12th December. The EU will follow by the end of the year and the rest of the world starting from 6th January.

Last month, Twitter announced it would stop all political advertising with the exception of voter registration ads. The ban includes ads referencing a political candidate, party, election or legislation.

Facebook has not banned political ads and has also exempted politicians from its third-party fact-checking programme, which has prompted criticism that it allows misinformation to spread.

Following the 2016 US presidential election, the three companies all introduced transparency tools that allow people to view what political advertising is running on their platforms. Google said yesterday that from 3rd December it will expand its transparency on election advertising to include US state-level candidates and officeholders, ballot measures, and ads that mention federal or state political parties.

However, the company is also looking into the issue of political ad spend misreporting following a report in the Guardian.

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) welcomed the announcement but reiterated its call for a platform-neutral register of all online political ads and advertising data.

Paul Bainsfair, director general, IPA, said: “Google’s announcement marks a significant step in our call to address the lack of transparency, accountability and honesty of microtargeted political ads online – something we have repeatedly questioned. As such, Google should be applauded. However, despite this and other various positive steps being taken in this area, our concern that trust in advertising will continue to be undermined by this form of opaque advertising will remain until there is a universal online register of all political ads – to which all media platforms must comply.”