Ahead of tomorrow’s Congressional hearings, Google has published its findings on Russian interference related to the 2016 U.S. election. In several reports, Google provided an overview of how a Russian-linked organization used Ads, YouTube, and other services to spread information, as well as upcoming steps to counteract it.
As reported by other web services, many of the findings link back to Russia’s Internet Research Agency. Two Russian-linked accounts spent $4,700 on search and display ads during the election cycle. Google notes that targeting was broad and did not try to narrow reach by geography or political preference. “Ads on associated sites” generated less than $35 in AdSense and Ad Exchange revenue for these Russian accounts.
This is in contrast to Google’s first statement in September that noted “no evidence” of political ad-related Russian interference on its platforms. A month later, after analyzing data from other tech companies, like Twitter, Google found that their platforms were used to buy ads.
In terms of counteracting these actions moving forward, Google is building a “publicly accessible database of election ads” on YouTube and AdWords that details who bought each ad.
Meanwhile, ads in Search and YouTube will list who is behind an election-related campaign when users tap the “Why This Ad” icon. Google is also boosting their verification program to make sure an advertiser is permitted to run U.S. election ads.
On YouTube, 18 related channels uploaded 1,108 videos that span 43 hours in length and viewed 309,000 times in the U.S. According to Google, they “appeared to be political” and have since been suspended.
Russian use of other platforms appeared to be less extensive. Despite Search & News culpable to manipulation, Google found “no evidence that state-linked or state-funded actors used improper methods to boost their rankings.”
Meanwhile, Gmail was used to create accounts on other platforms. While there were no English language political posts on Google+, there were some other linked posts that were non-political in nature. However, there were political posts in Russian.
Google notes the steps it took to stop phishing and hacking in a separate document. Specifically, government-backed actors “attempted” to spear-phish targets ahead of the election, with Google sending thousands of warnings to users in the U.S.