Google offers new findings on Russian disinformation across its products – TechCrunch
Just a day before techâ€™s big Russia-focused Congressional hearings begin, Google is out with a new report on the Russian governmentâ€™s efforts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election across its platforms.
â€œWhile we have found only limited activity on our services, we will continue to work to prevent all of it, because there is no amount of interference that is acceptable,â€ Google wrote in its latest blog post on the issue, titled â€œSecurity and disinformation in the U.S. 2016 election.â€
Googleâ€™s report appears to be limited to accounts with observable ties to the Internet Research Agency,Â a Russian state-affiliated organization that produces political disinformation and sock puppet accounts. That narrowed scope is possibly an effort to appease Congress with some hard numbers, so itâ€™s worth keeping in mind that we donâ€™t yet know the scope of these disinformation campaigns beyond those pre-defined parameters.
Google reports that in an examination of its ad products, it discovered only two accounts with ties to the Internet Research Agency. The two accounts had invested $4,700 into Googleâ€™s ad network (search and display ads) during the timeframe of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Google doesnâ€™t specify how it defined that timeframe in this particular batch of numbers.
Unlike razor-sharp ad targeting on a platform like Facebook, these ads werenâ€™t even targeted by location or by political affiliation. Google does offer political ad segments that face â€œleft-leaningâ€ and â€œright-leaningâ€ audiences, though in this instance the Internet Research Agency did not appear to use the feature.
Googleâ€™s report breaks its YouTube findings into their own category. Here, it found 18 channels it believed to be linked to the Russian government that featured public political videos in English. While that isnâ€™t very many channels, they did create a cumulative 1,108 videos with 309,000 views in the U.S. from June 2015 to November of the following year. The vast majority of videos had fewer than 5,000 views.
The report also included Googleâ€™s other products, though those examinations didnâ€™t turn up much. Thereâ€™s no evidence (yet, anyway) that state-sponsored accounts used â€œimproper methodsâ€ to boost search rankings, though anyone whoâ€™s seen fake news featured high up in their search results might rightfully have questions about how the company decides what flies in search and what doesnâ€™t.
To wrap up its report, Google even did an analysis of Google+ that seems to suggest that Russian state actors might be posting vacation pics on the mostly abandoned social network:
â€œWe â€‹found â€‹no â€‹political â€‹posts â€‹in â€‹English â€‹from â€‹state-linked â€‹actors â€‹on â€‹Google+ (there â€‹were some â€‹posts â€‹in â€‹Russian â€‹and â€‹a â€‹very â€‹small â€‹number â€‹of â€‹non-political â€‹posts).â€
All three companies set to appear before theÂ Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate and House Intel Committees this week put out an early report previewing their expected testimony. Googleâ€™s relatively small scale findings put into perspective Facebookâ€™s new assertion that similar content reached 126 million users on its own platform, though the situation on Twitter also appears to be at least somewhat worse than previously reported.Â
Weâ€™ll be following techâ€™s testimony to Congress this week as the companies expand on their own unwitting role in foreign disinformation campaigns during the 2016 election.
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