Google, Facebook and Twitter 'failing' on political ad transparency, privacy group says

Social media companies aren’t consistent in how they disclose political ads, according to a new report from a privacy-focused nonprofit.

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London-based Privacy International said in its analysis released late Wednesday that social media companies, including Facebook, Twitter and Google, are “failing to provide adequate advertising transparency to users globally.”

Pressure by governments or other institutions has prompted the companies to adopt self-regulatory practices in some countries, according to the report. But in countries where there hasn’t been pressure, they have failed to add the same transparency efforts.

Facebook provides political ad transparency in 35 countries, Privacy International said. Google provides it in 30 countries. Twitter provides it in 32 countries, but only for specific elections; other political ads on Twitter outside the U.S. are treated as promoted tweets.

But none of the companies provide “meaningful transparency into political issue ads,” the group said in its report, noting that Facebook and Twitter each define them differently. Google has not even defined what it considers to be “political issues,” the group added.

Social media companies have been facing pressure to increase political advertising transparency in the U.S. since officials found that Russia had orchestrated a widespread online misinformation campaign during the 2016 election. In Europe, leaders have also been targeting big tech companies over privacy issues for several years.

Representatives from Facebook and Google both told FOX Business that their respective companies have worked to increase transparency into political advertising.

“Political advertising on Facebook and Instagram is now far more transparent than anywhere else, especially when compared to TV, radio and print advertising,” the Facebook spokesperson said.

FILE - In this April 11, 2018, file photo, 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.

Facebook has also been removing millions of fake accounts and “clamping down on fake news,” according to the spokesperson. They said the company has been working with governments, watchdogs, regulators and others to bring transparency to ads and keep advertisers and Facebook itself accountable.

Facebook has posted an “ad library” and Google has posted a “transparency report” to make political advertising information public.

“For many years, we’ve provided a range of products and programs to protect the integrity of elections and help voters find quality information about their elections,” a Google spokesperson said. “Recently, we’ve also built tools to help people understand who’s paying for political ads they see. We know there is more work to be done and we’re looking at ways to bring more political ads transparency to more regions and more types of elections."

FILE - This March 23, 2010, file photo shows the Google logo at the Google headquarters in Brussels. Its dominance in the search arena has brought Google under intense scrutiny by regulators in the U.S. and abroad.(AP Photo/Virginia Mayo, File) (AP)

A Twitter spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to FOX Business’ inquiry. The company has released information on government-sponsored misinformation campaigns.

However, all three companies provide “inadequate” information about targeting information in the ads, even as the advertisers are able to “micro-target users,” according to the report. Google “is especially deficient,” the group said, because it gives only broad ranges for the number of times an ad was shown.

“It is still impossible to meaningfully understand who political advertisers are targeting across the three platforms,” Privacy International said.

The group is recommending that the social media companies expand their transparency tools globally, provide upgraded ad libraries and share more information about how users are targeted by political advertisers.