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Google is following Facebook's lead on political ad transparency.
Google is following Facebook’s lead on political ad transparency.

Image: Photothek via Getty Images

As the fallout from the 2016 election continues and we learn more about how foreign agents (*cough*RUSSIA*cough) interfered in that election by exploiting weakness online, Google is the latest tech giant to announce new transparency measures ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

On Friday, senior vice president Kent Walker published a blog post that outlined Google’s new efforts, including verification of political ad buyers and transparency reports. According to Walker, for those wishing to publish political ads, Google will “require that advertisers confirm they are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, as required by law.”

Ad buyers can do so with a government-issued ID and the more vague “other key information.” What that exact information is — tax ID number? social security number? — is unclear at the moment. 

Walker also says Google is working on Transparency Reports that will detail who bought ads on Google and how much money they spent. It’ll be published and stored in a database that will allow anyone to search for the same information. 

It’s not the only thing Google has done with regards to safe-guarding its role in elections. Walker touted the recent Jigsaw Protect Your Elections toolkit that seems like a direct response to Russia’s interference in several elections across the globe. 

And, on Thursday, Google also announced improvements to its Advance Protection Program which now includes support for native Apple iOS apps, protecting users of those programs, specifically those vulnerable to phishing scams or hacking, like journalists or campaign staff. 

What’s particularly interesting is how Google has been able to, thus far, escape most of the intense scrutiny over the 2016 elections that has hit other platforms hard, particularly Twitter and Facebook, Though Google was grilled alongside those platforms at Congressional hearings in October 2017, the tech behemoth has avoided much of the public wrath that’s followed the others.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in particular has been picked apart by Congress and other critics for Facebook’s 2016 election ad failings and the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal. Such as it is, at the beginning of April, Facebook announced improvements to its latest ad transparency rules which it laid out last fall.

For now, Google is able to make the same changes while generating a lot less public scorn, which is probably just fine with the company’s leadership.

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