For the Lok Sabha elections next year, online search major Google plans to replicate an exercise that it undertook during the recently concluded mid-term elections in the United States, where the Mountain View, California-headquartered company attempted to put in place “tight control” on who is spending on political advertisements, alongside guidelines requiring all such advertisements to include a disclosure identifying who paid for it. A weekly transparency report that listed political advertisement spends on the basis of advertisers and their party affiliations was also launched during the US mid-terms.
Speaking to The Indian Express, Google India’s Director of Trust and Safety, Sunita Mohanty, said the company has put in place a global framework and will also establish tools to check the spread of fake news pertaining to elections. “We are planning something. What we did with the recent US elections is that we built a very tight control on who is spending on election advertisement and how are we controlling information on elections. We launched a transparency report on the kind of political advertisements that were being run. We also did a product control on spread of misinformation and fake news around elections,” Mohanty said, when asked how Google was getting ready for the Indian elections.
“In the US, during the mid-term 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. 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,” she added.
For the US mid-term elections, Google published a transparency report, updated weekly, pertaining to political advertisements on its platform and laid down guidelines for such advertisements. As per the norms, advertisers must be verified by Google in order to run advertisements of political importance in the US on Google Ad Services.
The report included information about advertisements related to elections or issues that featured a federal candidate or office-holder. It also showed how much those verified advertisers were spending to run advertisements on Google Ads Services in the US.
The advertisements that appear on Google’s search platform are based on identification of relevant keywords entered by a user, to which an advertisement is referenced. The report also listed the advertisers who spent more than $500 on advertisements of political importance in the current US federal election cycle May 31, 2018 onwards. Google guidelines also require that all political advertisements include a disclosure identifying who paid for a particular advertisement.
Mohanty pointed out that while Google personalises advertisements that a user sees, based on search data of that individual for categories, such as apparel, travel, etc, the company’s systems do not use factors such as political leanings, sexual orientations or medical conditions to personalise advertisements.
“We have introduced a concept — there is advertisement personalisation, Google uses your data to personalise advertisements — but you can go and remove categories for which you do not want advertisements. You can remove apparel, ticketing, tech, etc. As a user, I may be searching about a particular political party or its leaders, which may show I am affiliated to a particular party, but my political affiliation is never used for personalisation. Similarly, if I am searching about treatments for HIV or cancer, even those are not used to personalise advertisements,” she said.
“We have a principle that determines what is extremely individual and personal, and what we can (use for personalising advertisements). We sat down and worked out a policy principle — sexual orientation cannot be used for personalisation, but clothes or shoes is personalised. Personalised advertisements help people make better choices,” Mohanty said.