Google has said that political advertisers will no longer be able to narrowly target users through their characteristics such as interests or email addresses, in a shake-up to its policies just weeks before the UK’s general election.
Alphabet’s search platform said in a blog post on Wednesday that political advertisers will now only be able to target audiences by age, gender and general location at the postcode level.
Google said it would introduce the rules in the UK within a week, ahead of the country’s general election on December 12. The changes will come into force in the EU by the end of the year, and in the rest of the world from January 6 2020, it added.
Until the changes, advertisers could target commercials in Google searches, sites using its ads technology and on its video platform YouTube based on email lists that they had collected, or by broad interests, such as fandom of a particular sport.
In the US, Google also used to allow targeting by public voter records and political affiliation, such as left or right-leaning, although this option has never been available in the UK due to national regulations.
“Given recent concerns and debates about political advertising, and the importance of shared trust in the democratic process, we want to improve voters’ confidence in the political ads they may see on our ad platforms,” said Scott Spencer, vice-president of product management for Google Ads.
The move comes as concerns rise over the spread of misinformation around elections, with some regulators arguing that allowing misleading content to be shown to small groups makes it harder for others to debunk.
Google’s overhaul will ramp up pressure on Facebook to follow suit. The social media group caused uproar over its contentious decision to allow all political advertising on its platform even if it is misleading.
Smaller rival Twitter, by contrast, has opted to ban all advertising paid for by politicians and limit the targeting capabilities of campaign groups.
But not all are in favour of such changes. US president Donald Trump’s campaign team said in a tweet early on Wednesday that Facebook wanted “to take important tools away from us for 2020”.
A Facebook spokesperson said: “For over a year we’ve provided unprecedented transparency into all US federal and state campaigns and we prohibit voter suppression in all ads. As we’ve said we are looking at different ways we might refine our approach to political ads.”
Political advertisers will still be able to do contextual targeting on Google, such as serving ads to people linked to what they are reading online, the group said on Wednesday.
It also said it was updating its policies to highlight bans on “deep fakes” — doctored or manipulated video or audio files — as well as misleading material about the census process or “demonstrably false claims” designed to deter people from voting.
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