Ahead of today’s congressional hearing on social media companies’ efforts to thwart election meddling in advance of November’s midterm races, Alphabet Inc.’s Google posted a “testimony”. The Senate had invited Alphabet Inc. CEO Larry Page, and also extended the invitation to Google CEO, Sundar Pichai to testify in the hearing. However, both officials aren’t attending the hearing, and Google has planned to send its Chief legal officer Kent Walker, instead, to testify before the panel.
The Senate Intelligence Committee has rejected Google’s Chief Legal Officer Kent Walker as a witness. The committee finds Walker as not placed high-level enough in the company to testify at Wednesday’s hearing. The panel expects to hear testimony from Twitter Inc. Chief Executive Jack Dorsey and Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as well on Wednesday.
Kent Walker says in his blog post, “I will be in Washington briefing Members of Congress on our work on this and other issues and answering any questions they have, and will be submitting this testimony.”
Here are the key highlights of the testimony:
- Verification program: A verification program has been rolled out for anyone who wants to purchase a federal election ad on Google in the U.S. Google will require advertisers to provide government-issued identification information and other key information to confirm they are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident or a U.S.-based organization, as per the law.
- In-ad disclosures: To help people better understand who is paying for an election ad Google has incorporated In-ad Disclosures. It means Google will be able to identify by name advertisers running election-related campaigns on Search, YouTube, Display and Video 360, and the Google Display Network.
- Transparency report: Google launched a “Political advertising on Google” Transparency Report for election ads, which will provide data about the entities buying election-related ads on the platforms, how much money is spent across states and congressional districts on such ads, and who the top advertisers are overall. The report will also show the keywords advertisers have spent the most money on ads of political importance during the current U.S. election cycle from May 31st, 2018 onwards.
- Searchable election Ad library: Finally, Google will offer a searchable election Ad Library within their public Transparency Report which will show things like which ads had the highest views, what the latest election ads running on our platform are, and deep dives into specific advertisers’ campaigns.
The data shows the overall amount spent and number of ads run by each election advertiser, and whether the advertiser targeted its ad campaigns geographically or by age or gender. It will also show the approximate amount spent on each individual ad, the approximate impressions generated by each ad, and the dates each ad ran on the platform.
In addition to the transparency efforts, Google has implemented a number of initiatives to improve the cybersecurity posture of candidates, campaigns, and the election infrastructure. In October 2017, they unveiled the Advanced Protection Program, which they claim, will provide the strongest account protection that Google offers.
Second, in May 2018, Google’s Jigsaw project, dedicated to building technology to address significant security challenges, announced the availability of Project Shield to U.S. political organizations (e.g., candidates, campaigns, political action committees) registered with the 3 appropriate electoral authorities. Project Shield is a free service that will use Google technology to prevent distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks that block access to content.
Lastly Google continues to issue warnings to users when they are suspicious about the risk of state-sponsored efforts hijacking their accounts. But they also acknowledge that combating disinformation campaigns is next to impossible for any single company to shoulder.
“We have deployed our most advanced technologies to increase security and fight manipulation, but we realize that no system is going to be 100% perfect. Our algorithms are designed to identify content that many people find relevant and useful. We are constantly looking to find signals that help us identify deceptive content, while promoting content that is authoritative, relevant, and current. We have made substantial progress in preventing and detecting abuse, and are seeing continued success in stopping bad actors attempting to game our systems. And as threats evolve, we will continue to adapt in order to understand and prevent new attempts to misuse our platforms.
We certainly can’t do this important work alone. Combating disinformation campaigns requires efforts from across the industry. We’ll continue to work with other companies to better protect the collective digital ecosystem, and, even as we take our own steps, we are open to working with governments on legislation that promotes electoral transparency.”
Kent concluded saying, “While the nature of our services and the way we run our advertising operations appears to have limited the amount of state-sponsored interference on our platforms, no system is perfect—and we are committed to taking continuing action to address the issue. Over the course of the last 18 months.”
Also published on Medium.