Google Stops Ads Served to Users Wanting Voting Information for 'Misrepresentation'

A Google spokeswoman mentioned that the company did not yet know how the ads had got through its approval process, which uses a combination of automated and manual review

Google mentioned on Monday that it had removed the advertisements for the firms that charge people huge fees for registering to vote or harvesting their data that appeared when the users searched for voter information.

A spokeswoman from Google told Reuters that the misrepresentation policy of the company barred those advertisements that were found by the nonprofit watchdog Tech Transparency Project after searching for the terms like "register to vote," "vote by mail," and "where is my polling place."

As in all major democracies, voters in the United States do not have to pay to register to vote. Tech Transparency Project said in a report on Monday that nearly a third of the more than 600 ads generated by its Google searches took users to sites that try to charge large fees for voter registration services, extract personal data for marketing purposes, install deceptive browser extensions, or serve other misleading ads.

Google Removes Ads for Firms Charging People

A Google logo on the wall of The Gasworks building in Dublin, Ireland taken on September 2, 2008 Carlos Luna/Flickr

The report said that the first ad in a Google search for "register to vote" directed users to a site from that charged $129 for "same-day processing" of voter registration. PrivacyWall's CEO Jonathan Wu said in an email to Reuters that its service makes it easier for voters to register online without giving more data than is required, and that it does not share data for any purpose other than voter registration.

"Our goal is to create choice where none may exist. In order to make this possible, we charge consumers a fee which is clearly disclosed," said Wu, adding that the fee covered mail, staffing and other costs. "We will not let Google arbitrarily thwart our efforts to protect consumer privacy and to increase voter turnout."

A Google spokeswoman said the company did not yet know how the ads had got through its approval process, which uses a combination of automated and manual review. "We have strict policies in place to protect users from false information about voting procedures, and when we find ads that violate our policies and present harm to users, we remove them and block advertisers from running similar ads in the future," the spokeswoman said.

The TTP report said: "Some people may find it difficult to distinguish Google ads from other kinds of content because as of January, search ads on Google feature the same typeface and color scheme as organic search results." Social media companies and online platforms, including Facebook and Twitter, are under pressure to curb misinformation on their sites in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in November.

(With agency inputs)