Google discovered Russian-bought ads on YouTube and Gmail

9 Oct 2017

Ads associated with Gmail may have been affected. Image: hilalabdullah/Shutterstock

This is the first time Google has discovered any evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Online juggernaut Google has uncovered evidence that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads by agents who aimed to spread fake news and propaganda across Google’s broad portfolio of platforms.

The Washington Post explained today (9 October) that Google’s discovery is especially significant, given that the ads on its platforms don’t seem to be from the same group that targeted users on Facebook. Ads were apparently discovered on YouTube as well as search, Gmail and the DoubleClick ad network run by Google.

Andrea Faville, a spokesperson for Google previously said no evidence of malicious ad campaigns had been found.

Google will be increasingly scrutinised

According to The Washington Post’s report, that set of ads being investigated cost less than $100,000 and, at the moment, Google is still trying to figure out if it was all troll-based, or whether there were some legitimate Russian residents running a campaign.

Google had so far avoided the intense scrutiny Facebook has been subjected to over the response to alleged Russian electoral interference. However, this could change as the investigation continues. Just last month, Twitter informed congressional investigators that it found around 200 accounts with ties to Russian propaganda dissemination.

Google apparently discovered the suspicious advertisers on its networks by accessing data from the Twitter investigation. Twitter typically charges users who want to mine its data all the way back to 2006, but this service is free of charge up to a certain point. From these identified Twitter accounts, Google found links to ad purchases using its services.

It’s early days for Google, and it remains to be seen whether it will testify before US congress on 1 November, along with Facebook and Twitter executives.

Facebook’s security chief on bias

This news comes as Facebook’s security executive Alex Stamos responded to critics of the company’s reaction to the fake news narrative. He called on journalists to talk to those who have had to solve machine learning and algorithmic issues, and to be mindful of their own biases when covering stories such as this.

Image of Gmail app via hilalabdullah/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects