Google has discovered Russia-back ads proliferated on its platforms during an effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. The investigation found that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on YouTube, Gmail, Google Search, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network. The information came from a source who was briefed on the company’s probe, but was speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss details of Google’s confidential investigation.
Russia’s ad purchases on Google, owned by Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG), were first reported by the Washington Post. The source revealed that Google uncovered less than $100,000 in ad spending potentially linked to Russian operatives. A Google spokeswoman commented, “We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries.”
The Kremlin-affiliated entity that bought ads on Facebook does not appear to be the backer of the ads on Google. Facebook found that suspected Russian operatives, working for a content farm called the Internet Research Agency in St. Petersburg, Russia, used its platforms to purchase politically divisive ads and content in a bid to influence Americans voting in the November 2016 presidential election. Last month, Facebook disclosed it had unearthed $100,000 in spending for about 3,000 ads by the Internet Research Agency.
The discovery may indicate a broader Russian online disinformation effort. The source said Google is still sorting out whether some of the ads came from legitimate Russian accounts. Google currently runs the world’s largest online advertising business. YouTube is the world’s largest online video site.
U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that the goal of the Russia-backed ads was to help elect Donald Trump. Some posed as Black Lives Matter sympathizers critical of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Other ads appear to have been aimed at promoting anti-immigrant sentiment and racial animosity.
The role that Silicon Valley technology giants may have unwittingly played during last year’s election is still being uncovered. Congressional committees have launched multiple investigations into Russian interference in the election. Some congressional leaders are reportedly planning to introduce legislation that requires internet companies to disclose more information about purchases of political ad on their platforms.
Google officials have been invited to testify publicly before both the House and Senate intelligence committees about Russian attempts to use their platforms to influence the election. Google has not confirmed plans to attend.