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How Political Ads Work, A Guide by Facebook and Google

Ohio digital consultant Kevin Bingle said his team reviewed opponents on Facebook's database daily to take advantage of gaps in their strategy.

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A Google logo is displayed at the entrance to the internet based company's offices in Toronto. VOA

Public databases that shine a light on online political ads – launched by Facebook and Google before Tuesday’s U.S. elections – offer the public the first broad view of how quickly the companies yank advertisements that break their rules.

The databases also provided campaigns unprecedented insight into opponents’ online marketing, enabling them to capitalize on weaknesses, political strategists told Reuters.

Facebook and Google, owned by Alphabet, introduced the databases this year to give details on some political ads bought on their services, a response to U.S. prosecutors’ allegations that Russian agents who deceptively interfered in the 2016 election purchased ads from the companies.

Russia denies the charges. American security experts said the Russians changed tactics this year.

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Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks at the Google I/O conference in Mountain View, Calif

Reuters found that Facebook and Google took down 436 ads from May through October related to 34 U.S. House of Representatives contests declared competitive last month by RealClearPolitics, which tracks political opinion polls.

Of the 258 removed ads with start and end dates, ads remained on Google an average of eight days and Facebook 15 days, according to data Reuters collected from the databases.

Based on ranges in the databases, the 436 ads were displayed up to 20.5 million times and cost up to $582,000, amounting to a fraction of the millions of dollars spent online in those races.

Asked for comment, Google said it is committed to bringing greater transparency to political ads. Facebook said the database is a way the company is held accountable, “even if it means our mistakes are on display.”

In some cases, the companies’ automated scans did not identify banned material such as hateful speech or images of poor quality before ads went live.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before a House Energy and Commerce hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington about the use of Facebook data to target American voters in the 2016 election and data privacy. VOA

Ads that are OK when scanned may also become noncompliant if they link to a website that later breaks down.

Google’s database covers $54 million in spending by U.S. campaigns since May and Facebook $354 million, according to their databases.

Facebook’s figure is larger partly because its database includes ads not only from federal races but also for state contests, national issues and get-out-the-vote efforts.

The databases generally do not say why a particular ad was removed, and only Facebook shows copies of yanked ads.

The American Conservative Union political organization, which had 136 ads removed through Sunday on Facebook, said some commercials contained a brief shot of comedian Kathy Griffin holding a decapitated head meant to portray U.S. President Donald Trump.

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This photo shows a Facebook app icon on a smartphone in New York. VOA

Removing the bloody image resolved the violation for sensational content, and the organization said it had no qualms about Facebook’s screening.

Some removals were errors. The Environmental Defense Action Fund said Facebook’s automated review wrongly misclassified one of its ads as promoting tobacco.

Ryan Morgan, whose political consulting firm Veracity Media arranged attack ads for a U.S. House race in Iowa, said Google barred those mentioning “white supremacy” until his team could explain the ads advocated against the racist belief.

Five campaign strategists told Reuters they adjusted advertising tactics in recent weeks based on what the databases revealed about opponents’ spending on ads and which genders, age groups and states saw the messages.

Also Read: Democrats Regain Majority In The House Of Representatives This U.S. Midterm Election

Ohio digital consultant Kevin Bingle said his team reviewed opponents on Facebook’s database daily to take advantage of gaps in their strategy.

Morgan said his team tripled its online ad budget to $600,000 for a San Francisco affordable housing tax after Facebook’s database showed the other side’s ads were reaching non-Californians.

That political intelligence “let us know that digital was a place we could run up the score,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Facebook, Google Performing an Assault on the Right to Privacy

In a statement given to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said the company is working to give people more control over their data

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The Facebook mobile app on an Android smartphone. Wikimedia Commons

Facebook and Google which offer services to billions of people without asking them to pay a financial fee are performing an assault on the right to privacy on an unprecedented scale, a stinging Amnesty International report said on Thursday, stressing that both companies need to change their business models which are threatening basic human rights.

The abuse of privacy that is core to Facebook and Google’s surveillance-based business model is starkly demonstrated by the companies’ long history of privacy scandals.

“Despite the companies’ assurances over their commitment to privacy, it is difficult not to see these numerous privacy infringements as part of the normal functioning of their business, rather than aberrations,” said the report that came out on Thursday.

Google and Facebook’s total revenues come almost entirely from advertising, at 84 percent and 98 percent respectively.

Their information is so attractive to advertisers that the two companies are often described as having a “duopoly” over the market in online advertising.

“But it isn’t ‘just ads’: the information in their data vaults – as well as the computational insights that Google and Facebook derive from that data,  is of intense interest to a host of actors, from companies who set insurance rates to law enforcement agencies,” said the NGO.

While Facebook agreed to pay a $5 billion fine to the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over privacy violations in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, the European Union’s antitrust regulators have fined Google 1.49 billion euros ($1.7 billion) for abusing its dominance in the online search market by blocking rivals.

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Huawei smartphones are seen in front of the displayed Google Play logo in this illustration picture, May 20, 2019. VOA

In fresh trouble for Google, 50 US Attorneys General probing its anti-trust market practices have decided to expand the investigation into the tech giant’s Android and Search businesses.

According to the Amnesty report, the surveillance-based business model of Google and Facebook has thrived from a largely hands-off approach to the regulation of the technology industry in key countries such as the US, the companies’ home state.

“But despite the real value of the services they provide, Google and Facebook’s platforms come at a systemic cost. The companies’ surveillance-based business model forces people to make a Faustian bargain, whereby they are only able to enjoy their human rights online by submitting to a system predicated on human rights abuse,” the report noted.

This isn’t the internet people signed up for. Citizens today are paying for the Facebook and Google services with their intimate personal data.

After collecting this data, Google and Facebook use it to analyze people, aggregate them into groups, and to make predictions about their interests, characteristics, and ultimately behavior – primarily so they can use these insights to generate advertising revenue.

“This surveillance machinery reaches well beyond the Google search bar or the Facebook platform itself. People are tracked across the web, through the apps on their phones, and in the physical world as well, as they go about their day-to-day affairs,” said the Amnesty report.

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An iPhone displays the app for Facebook in New Orleans, Aug. 11, 2019. VOA

In another example of infringing on users’ privacy, Google’s partnership with US healthcare organization Ascension over health data collection of millions of Americans through its “Project Nightingale” has also triggered a federal probe.

According to the NGO report, the companies’ use of algorithmic systems to create and infer detailed profiles on people interferes with “our ability to shape our own identities within a private sphere”.

“Advertisers were the original beneficiaries of these insights, but once created, the companies’ data vaults served as an irresistible temptation for governments as well.”

Ultimately, said the report, it is now evident that the era of self-regulation in the tech sector is coming to an end and further state-based regulation will be necessary.

Also Read: The Reasons of Investing in Luxury Watches

In its reply, Facebook disagreed with it’s business model being “surveillance-based.”

“It is important to note that no one is obliged to sign up for Facebook. Facebook’s business model is not, as your summary suggests, driven by the collection of data about people. Like many other online companies, Facebook is supported through the sale of advertising,” the social networking platform said in a letter which is part of the Amnesty report.

In a statement given to The Verge, a Google spokesperson said the company is working to give people more control over their data. (IANS)