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E. Q. Taft 09 October 2017 07:04 PM

Google uncovered Russia-backed ads on YouTube, Gmail, source says

Google has discovered Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads on its YouTube, Gmail and Google Search products in an effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a person briefed on the company’s probe told Reuters on Monday.

The reason I'm posting this in Techno-Babble rather than Soapbox is because of the question that immediately comes to my mind: Google, if it took the trouble to keep track, could probably tell you where I've eaten lunch or dinner for the past month, that I was shopping for a car a few months back but stopped, I'm sure could make a pretty accurate picture of my political leanings and hobbies, could link a couple of different pseudonyms I use or have used in the past in different places on the net with my real identity, etc. -- all that without particularly trying. How can they not have been aware till now that they had political ad revenue coming in from Russia?

I mean, sure, the people involved were doubtless making much more effort to cover their tracks than I do, but I'm also not buying thousands of dollars worth of political ads...

GenYus234 09 October 2017 07:53 PM


Originally Posted by E. Q. Taft (Post 1961116)
How can they not have been aware till now that they had political ad revenue coming in from Russia?

As our friends across the pond* would say, "They couldn't be arsed to look."

* Not that one, the other one.

ganzfeld 09 October 2017 11:21 PM

They're swimming in an ocean of data. Without having some reason (i.e. being arsed, as some might say), it's not easy for them to scuba through it looking for something specific that didn't float to the top as part of the algorithm. They've also been encouraged if not forced to have a good "reason" for collecting any data. This story could have easily been the other way: Why are Google, Facebook, and Apple keeping records of who buys political ads? Unlike conventional media, there still aren't any guidelines on what to collect, how and why. Without that, it could be dangerous in addition to simply being a waste of their time as a company.

jimmy101_again 10 October 2017 03:37 AM

I am sure that all traditional media outlets keep track of who buys political ads. I can't imagine why Google, Facebook, ... would be any difference.

One reason for the edata businesses to be out in front on this issue is that (1) it will drive regulation and (2) to avoid prosecution for violating election laws.

Things making it difficult for edata businesses to track this kind of thing is (1) the people posting/buying aren't people and don't behave like people and (2) they don't appear to be doing anything other than buying ads and posting on social media.

E. Q. Taft 10 October 2017 05:59 PM

I would imagine media companies keep track of who buys ads, if only because they may want to buy more ads later.

But I imagine they are more careful about political ads, for legal reasons: there are laws regulating political advertising (though not as many as there should be, IMHO).

E. Q. Taft 10 October 2017 06:17 PM

The notorious Kremlin-linked ‘troll farm’ and the Russians trying to take it down
Lyudmila Savchuk is one of a disparate handful of Russian journalists, activists and legal experts who have tried to shed light on the shadowy operation that has become a focal point of U.S. investigations into Kremlin meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

And like most people who challenge the established order in today’s Russia, Savchuk and the others are jousting against a nebulous entity with apparent Kremlin ties and evident protection from government and law-enforcement agencies. For them, this is a task that entails significant risks and little chance of success.

ganzfeld 11 October 2017 07:10 AM


Originally Posted by jimmy101_again (Post 1961138)
I am sure that all traditional media outlets keep track of who buys political ads. I can't imagine why Google, Facebook, ... would be any difference.

Three big differences are the FCC, the FEC, and the FTC. Google and Facebook don't use public airwaves and so are not bound by the same agreements as those who do. Many of the rules and laws these three regulate predate those companies, having been watered down, smudged, and erased by courts and legislatures over the past two decades. So much of the keeping track of exactly who buys what is simply out of a matter of habit more than necessity.

More importantly, because of those previous and existing laws, old media companies have rules already in place for, for example, exactly what constitutes a political ad whereas new media companies are going to have to do that from scratch. They do already do some monitoring of the ad process but it's obviously way way more automated than any in history and monitoring (or at the very least monitoring of the monitoring) can't be automated so it's antithetic to their business model. Old media, on the other hand, deals with ad companies and other agents who already know how to work with their system. You couldn't get an ad on TV or a magazine by clicking some links for most of their history. (Maybe you can now but that's not what they rely on for their revenue.) You can in new media and it's how they make a huge percentage of their money.

GenYus234 11 October 2017 02:47 PM

Online advertisers would probably still keep track of who buys which ads so they can appropriately target any human-involved callbacks and properly judge their metrics. They won't want to spend human time calling back a Senator when he won't be running again until 2022. And they'll want to know that the reason x% of their advertisers aren't buying more ads is because they were running for mayor and got defeated.

ganzfeld 11 October 2017 08:10 PM

Yes, that is correct but (tl;dr) it doesn't change the fact the vast majority of their clients get zero human contact of any kind.

One of the things that has come to light in all of this is that, like conventional ad marketing, they are willing to spend human resources to get close to clients and keep them happy. The money from clients that get such attention is a large part of their business but a very tiny percentage of clients. (I'm sure the same is true for old media but to a lesser degree and, again, small or large, they are much more likely to go through an old media ad agency to place those ads.) So flying under the radar means flying anywhere under 10000 meters. The amounts spent managed to stay well under, in part by spreading it out over many clients.

I'm inclined to believe, given the relatively low grand total found so far, plus the fact that it seems to be concentrated on a few specific locales, that this was more of a testbed concept to see the results. Much more effort was obviously spent on the (largely successful, IMO) projects of influencing by direct contact and strategic leaks.

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