Google identifies Russian election interference on network

Alphabet Inc’s Google is the latest technology company to find that Russian-linked accounts used its advertising network to interfere with the 2016 US presidential election campaign. 

Google investigators found US$4,700 (RM19,850) in ads tied to the Russian government, according to a person familiar with the matter. The company discovered another US$53,000 (RM223,842) in ad spending coming from Russia that it’s scrutinising further to determine whether it’s connected with state-sponsored accounts or legitimate ad spending by Russian businesses. 

The New York Times earlier reported on the breakdown in ad spending and The Washington Post first reported about Google’s disclosure of the Russian ad activity. 

The Google investigation reveals that it may not have been spared the same kind of activity Facebook Inc and Twitter Inc found on their social networks. The three technology giants have been called to testify at House and Senate Intelligence Committee meetings on Nov 1 as part of a broad investigation into Russia’s meddling with the election. So far Facebook has been attracting the most scrutiny, after it found US$100,000 (RM422,345) in advertising spending on some 3,000 ads linked to a Russian troll farm with ties to the Kremlin. 

As the only company that sells more digital advertising than Facebook, Google was also being closely watched in the context of the investigation. Lawmakers had been homing in on Google services including YouTube and Gmail, Bloomberg reported last week. Google’s investigation showed that the activity affected YouTube, the world’s largest digital-video portal, as well as Google’s main search advertising systems, the person familiar with the matter said Monday. 

Separately, the Daily Beast reported that Russia recruited fervent supporters of President Donald Trump to make YouTube videos that bashed his campaign opponent Hillary Clinton. The rap videos were put together by two black video bloggers, calling themselves Williams and Kalvin Johnson, whose social media pages investigators say are part of the broad Russian campaign to influence American politics. 

The content was pulled from Facebook and Twitter in August after it was identified as Russian government-backed propaganda, the Daily Beast reported, but the YouTube page remained live until shortly after the news was disclosed Monday. 

On Facebook, Russian accounts created groups and pages to push divisive posts about issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement, undocumented immigration and gun control. On Twitter, “bots” and other accounts promoted similar posts on that network too. 

Google, which previously said it didn’t find evidence of Russian-linked activity on its site, came to its latest conclusions after looking at data from Twitter, the person familiar with the investigation said. Google matched Russian-linked Twitter accounts to those that had bought advertising on its own websites, the person said. Twitter itself has said it found Russian accounts by matching by the accounts Facebook had found. 

“We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries,” a spokeswoman for Google said in an email. — Bloomberg