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Google Finds Accounts Connected to Russia Bought Election Ads

  • Google is the only company that sells more digital advertising than Facebook, and its role in the coordinated Russian campaign has been closely followed.
  • The 2016 presidential election marked the first time that Google allowed targeting by political leanings. It allowed two categories — left-leaning and right-leaning.
  • The Washington Post first reported that Google had found tens of thousands of dollars in ads linked to Russian addresses or currency.
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Council for Strategic Development and Priority Projects at the Kremlin in Moscow on November 25, 2016.
Sergei Ilnitsky | AFP | Getty Images
Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a meeting of the Council for Strategic Development and Priority Projects at the Kremlin in Moscow on November 25, 2016.

Google has found evidence that Russian agents bought ads on its wide-ranging networks in an effort to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign.

Using accounts believed to be connected to the Russian government, the agents purchased $4,700 worth of search ads and more traditional display ads, according to a person familiar with the company’s ongoing internal investigation who was not allowed to speak about it publicly.

Google found those accounts based on specific information it discovered as well as leads from other technology companies, the person said.

Google found a separate $53,000 worth of ads with political material that were purchased from Russian internet addresses, building addresses or with Russian currency, but it is not clear whether any of these were state-sponsored ads and may have been legitimate ad spending by Russian citizens, the person said.

The search giant has been called to testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Nov. 1. It has so far escaped the intense scrutiny confronting Facebook after the social network admitted that it discovered 470 profiles and pages to a Russian company with ties to the Kremlin. Facebook also said the pages had placed 3,000 ads on its network at a cost of about $100,000.

Google is the only company that sells more digital advertising than Facebook, and its role in the coordinated Russian campaign has been closely followed. The Washington Post reported earlier that Google has found that Russian agents hoping to spread misinformation had spent tens of thousands of dollars on the company’s advertising platforms.

The 2016 presidential election marked the first time that Google allowed targeting by political leanings. It allowed two categories — left-leaning and right-leaning. However, Google’s investigation has not found any evidence that the Russian ads used these categories or geographic parameters to target specific groups, the person said.

The ads mainly appeared alongside Google’s search results or on websites outside of its own network of sites, the person said. It was not clear whether the ads appeared on YouTube or Gmail.

The investigation is continuing, so there remains a chance that Google may find other ads from Russian-linked accounts, the person said.

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