Google to crack down on political ads to ‘improve voter confidence’

21 Nov 2019

Image: © Andrei/

Google has said it will limit targeted political ads ahead of the UK and US elections.

Google will no longer allow voters to be targeted by advertisers based on their political affiliation, the company has announced. Election audience advertisements will now be limited to the general categories of age, gender and general location.

In a blog post published on Wednesday (20 November), Google Ads executive Scott Spencer explained that the changes would be implemented in order to “improve voters’ confidence” in digital political advertising and international electoral processes.

Google will, the post continued, be “clarifying” its advertising policies to avoid material that could “significantly undermine participation or trust in the democratic process” being posted on its platforms.

‘We believe these changes will help promote confidence in digital political advertising and trust in electoral processes worldwide’

“We’re proud that people around the world use Google to find relevant information about elections,” Spencer said. Though Google maintains it has never offered granular microtargeting services, it said it believes there is more that can be done to promote increased transparency in political advertising.

“Regardless of the cost or impact to spending on our platforms, we believe these changes will help promote confidence in digital political advertising and trust in electoral processes worldwide.”

Google will begin enforcing the changes in the UK “within a week”, in time for the country’s general election, which is due to take place on 12 December. The changes will be applied to the EU by the end of the year and then globally on 6 January 2020, meaning it will also be in time for the US 2020 presidential election.

Political advertising concerns

The new policies would apply to all advertisers and content types including ‘deep fakes’ (doctored or manipulated media), misleading claims about the census process and ads making “demonstrably false claims”.

“Whether you’re running for office or selling office furniture, we apply the same ads policies to everyone — there are no carve-outs,” Spencer added.

“It’s against our policies for any advertiser to make a false claim — whether it’s a claim about the price of a chair or a claim that you can vote by text message, that election day is postponed or that a candidate has died.”

“Of course, we recognise that robust political dialogue is an important part of democracy, and no one can sensibly adjudicate every political claim, counterclaim and insinuation. So we expect that the number of political ads on which we take action will be very limited — but we will continue to do so for clear violations.”

Google is the latest tech company to respond to growing scrutiny over online political advertising. It follows Twitter, which recently confirmed that it would ban all political advertising. The company launched a tool on its platform in April that enables people to report deliberately misleading details about the voting process.

Rival social media firm Facebook has faced repeated calls to ban political advertising after a number of misleading ads were taken down from the platform.

Congressional testimony from the company’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg inspired public criticism when it emerged during questioning that politicians would “probably” be able to post objectively false claims in adverts on the platform.

PA Media, with additional reporting by Eva Short