Facebook ramps up ad transparency ahead of India's 2019 general elections

  • Advertisers in India who want to run political ads on Facebook will need to confirm their identity and location to prevent abuse of the system ahead of the 2019 general elections, the social networking site said.
  • "By authorizing advertisers and bringing more transparency to ads, we can better defend against foreign interference in India's elections," the social media company said on Thursday.
Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, left, speaks as Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, listens during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015.
David Paul Morris |Bloomberg | Getty Images
Narendra Modi, India's prime minister, left, speaks as Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer of Facebook, listens during a town hall meeting at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., on Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015.

Advertisers in India who want to run political ads on Facebook will need to confirm their identity and location to prevent abuse of the system ahead of the 2019 general elections, the social networking site said.

As the world's largest democracy heads to polls next year for its general elections, Facebook announced Thursday that the new transparency measures were aimed at defending any possible foreign interference in the polls.

Advertisers seeking to run ads related to Indian politics will have to use their devices to submit proof of identity and location. This confirmation process might take a few weeks, the social media firm said.

"It's important that people know more about the ads they see — especially those that reference political figures, political parties, elections, and legislation. That's why we're making big changes to the way we manage these ads on Facebook and Instagram," Facebook said. "By authorizing advertisers and bringing more transparency to ads, we can better defend against foreign interference in India's elections."

Such measures have already been rolled out in Brazil, the U.S., and the U.K. Facebook has been under scrutiny after the Cambridge Analytica scandal which damaged the company's reputation after the massive data breach.

The London-based elections consultancy exploited Facebook to collect the data of more than 50 million users without their permission. The Trump campaign paid Cambridge Analytica more than $6.2 million to help target voters through Facebook ads, according to Federal Election Commission records cited by Reuters.

Google's measures

For its part Google said it intends to put in place its own set of measures to ensure greater transparency on ads before the Indian elections.

"In the U.S. during the midterm elections, we ran weekly reports showing all the advertisements that ran on Google platform, who paid for them, which party did it cover. We plan that for India," Google India's director of trust and safety, Sunita Mohanty said in an Indian newspaper. "There's still time for India's general elections, but we are gearing up for it and we have put in place a global framework for it."

For the American midterm elections Google published and updated regularly a transparency report and set up guidelines for political advertisements. Advertisers needed to be verified by Google in order to run advertisements of political importance in the U.S. on Google.

Ads race

Ahead of next year's general elections, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) along with the Indian National Congress party have reportedly spent substantially for advertisements in state elections. These advertisements span over different media platforms including newspapers, television and digital.

The BJP has also faced scrutiny over its exorbitant spending of reportedly $753.99 million on advertising its flagship schemes between April 2014 and July 2018.

—Reuters, CNBC's Sam Meredith and Salvador Rodriguez contributed to this report