Google, in an effort to provide greater transparency, publishes a weekly report on data intended to shed light on how policies and actions of governments and corporations affect privacy, security, and access to information on Google, YouTube, and partner properties.
According to the company’s most recent report, President Donald Trump's political ads have been hit hard with more than 300 video ads taken down by Google and YouTube for “violating company policy.” While the report does not indicate what policies were violated, it does provide a list of ads removed.
The importance of Google's transparency report follows their announcement last month that the company plans to tighten policies on political ads moving into the 2020 election cycle. The company said it will no longer allow political ads to be targeted to specific groups of voters by ideological affiliation or by information found in public voter files after Ellen Weintraub, chairwoman of the Federal Election Commission, called on tech companies to voluntarily end the practice.
Weintraub argues that, without sufficient transparency, the tactic of targeted political ads could allow malicious actors to secretly and deliberately mislead voters on key issues.
While political ads on social media adhere to the same rules as political ads on TV, they have recently faced increased scrutiny following accusations in Washington that conservative voices are being targeted and silenced on social platforms.
In response to questions arising from removed political advertisements, Google stated that they were focused on creating “a safe and positive experience” for users.
“We want to support a healthy digital advertising ecosystem — one that is trustworthy and transparent, and works for users, advertisers, and publishers,” Google’s advertising policy statement reads. “These policies are designed not only to abide by laws but to ensure a safe and positive experience for our users. This means that our policies prohibit some content that we believe to be harmful to users and the overall advertising ecosystem.”
The Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee issued a joint statement on Nov. 26 condemning Google’s move to ban targeted political ads, calling the plan a “blatant attempt to suppress voter information, knowledge, and engagement.”
According to the transparency report, political advertising on Google has continued to grow each election cycle and accounted for $131,775,700 in revenue for the company in 2019. Florida, California, Texas and Arizona received the heaviest bombardment of political ads, while North Dakota ranked in the bottom 5, seeing only $904,100, or 0.68% of the total.
The transparency report doesn’t stop with political advertising, maintaining statistics on subjects such as government requests for removal of content and governmental disruptions of content.
According to Google, governments contact the company with content removal requests for a number of reasons. Government bodies may claim that content violates a local law, and include court orders that are often not directed at Google with their requests. Both types of requests are counted in the report. The report also includes government requests to review content to determine if it violates Google’s own product community guidelines and content policies.
The most recent report indicates that by June 30, 2019, 285,000 total items had been removed by request of government agencies. The most often cited reasons include trademark, copyright and national security concerns. Of those requests for removal, the largest number came from the United States government, at 165,005 requests, with China requesting a little over 15,000 items be removed.
According to the report, 24.5% of removal requests are at the search engine level and all but prevent end users from locating information related to their inquiry. Reasons given by Google for the removal of the content focuses on four main elements; violence, hate speech, bullying/harassment and national security.
Finally, the report logs the number of visits to every Google product, along with an approximation of the geographic region where the visit originated. A visible decrease in traffic in a specific region may mean that users there cannot access a product or service and is considered a disruption. The report documents real-time disruptions that can be observed, along with known disruptions reported by external parties.
According to the report, China, Iran, Mauritania, Ethiopia and Sudan are the leading disruption nations. These nations have disrupted service to articles featuring content about protests, marches and elections.
For a full review of the Google Transparency Report, visit https://transparencyreport.google.com/