Google suspends election ads in Washington state

It's to comply with recent disclosure law amendments.

Google has bowed to pressure from Washington state and will no longer run local election advertisements starting from today. Attorney General Bob Ferguson recently accused Google and Facebook -- which have received about $1.5 million and $3.4 million in relation to advertising respectively -- of shielding the public from information about who is buying the political ads they see. Ferguson's subsequent lawsuit argued that both companies had failed to adhere to the state's stipulated campaign finance laws.

In response, Google announced via an AdWords policy update that it would suspend ads concerning ballot measures and candidates for both local and state elections. Google representative Alex Krasov told GeekWire that the tech company "take(s) transparency and disclosure of political ads very seriously" and it would make sure its systems are in alignment with the revised campaign disclosure law.

New requirements from the Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) mandate that "information regarding political advertising or electioneering communications must be made available" and the maintenance of corresponding records is required for "no less than three years" after the election in question. From now on, digital communication platforms like Google and Facebook need to be able to provide a description of the audiences and geographic locations targeted, as well as the complete number of impressions advertisements generate.

This is an unusual move by Google, which has no previous track record of pausing political ads across a US state. However, in the wake of allegations that the 2016 presidential election was sabotaged by Russian cyberattacks and the GDPR's commitment to transparency and user privacy, it appears Google is choosing to adapt rather than face even more outside pressure.

Regardless, this isn't a prohibition. It's a pause. Facebook is yet to make a public response following the lawsuit, but has already promised to start clearly labeling political ads (and outing who paid for them) from this spring.