Google unearths evidence of large-scale Russian interference during the US election
Google has uncovered evidence of a large-scale Russian operation to exploit its platforms as part of attempted interference with the 2016 US election.
As reported by The Washington Post, which cites people “familiar with the company’s investigation”, Google has reason to believe tens of thousands of dollars were spent by Russian agents on adverts across YouTube, Gmail and Google search, as well as the company’s DoubleClick ad network.
The alleged investigation goes against Google’s previous attempts to play down the scale of Russian interference on its systems. Facebook and Twitter recently revealed similar attacks on their networks, but Google has kept with the line that malicious ad campaigns weren’t run on the company’s platforms. It previously told the Post that it is “always monitoring for abuse or violations of our policies and we’ve seen no evidence this type of ad campaign was run on our platforms”.
The search giant hasn’t commented on the story, but the newspaper’s sources say the company is looking into ad spend of around $100,000, and is trying the discern whether this came from troll-farms or legitimate Russian accounts.
Significantly, these adverts don’t appear to come from the same sources as the Russian-linked ad campaign on Facebook. This could suggest that the problem of Russian meddling on US-based social media is much greater than has been previously revealed. When Facebook revealed the extent of its problem, it talked about $100,000 in ad buys from nearly 500 affiliated accounts “likely operated out of Russia”.
While these ads were timed around the US election, they rarely focused directly on that subject. Instead, they worked by – in the words of Facebook – “amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum”, from LGBT right to gun control.
If Google has found a similar tactic employed on its own platforms, but from a totally separate source of ad-generators, it may hint at a Russian-backed scheme that’s much more complex and widespread than many first thought.