Google Discovers Russia-Backed Ads on YouTube, Gmail


Google has uncovered evidence of a large-scale Russian operation to exploit its platforms as part of attempted interference with the 2016 USA election. Both Facebook and the other social-media giant, Twitter, have said that Russian entities bought ads and had accounts on their platforms. Google discovered potential Russian ads by linking Russian Twitter accounts to those used to purchase ads on its own services, reportedly without Twitter's permission. Google and Twitter reportedly did not collaborate on the effort, which is supposedly still in its early stages.

Google officials are expected to testify publicly before both the House and Senate intelligence committees on Nov 1 alongside Facebook and Twitter about Russian attempts to use their platforms to influence the election.

As part of a broad internal inquiry - which also spans sites like YouTube - Google also identified about $53,000 in ads that are connected to Russian Federation, through markers like a local billing address, but may not be explicitly tied to the Kremlin, the source said. Google had previously said it had seen no evidence of Russian-bought election ads on its platforms.

It is unclear if some of the same ad buyers on Facebook also purchased ads on Google. Last week, the Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed the intelligence community's assessment that Russian Federation attempted to influence the election.

While these ads were timed around the United States election, they rarely focused directly on that subject.

The company's investigation has apparently determined these ad purchases were made during the 2016 presidential election. Snap, however, told Recode that it has searched its data and found no evidence of any Russian-bought ads.

Twitter also found links to hundreds of Russian-backed accounts. Reports indicate the Russians using Google's sites are a different group than those involved with Facebook, so the problem appears to be wider spread than many originally anticipated. Almost $275,000 worth of ads on Twitter were bought by RT, a Russian government-linked news outlet, during 2016.

About $150,000 worth of fake Facebook ads, capable of reaching more than 10 million users, touched on hot-button issues like race, immigration and gun control.

Executives from Twitter and Facebook have said they will testify before Congress on November 1 regarding Russia's attempts to sow dissent on the social media platforms.