Google severely limits how political candidates can use their advertising tools in a set of policy changes it announced Wednesday that could change how elections play out in the digital arena going forward.
Most importantly, though not the most aggressive, but still moved by tech giants to limit misinformation shared by political campaigns on their platforms, Google said Wednesday that it will no longer allow micro-target voter campaigns with certain ads based on political attributes. This move is likely to make political advertising on Google far less effective than it has been in previous cycles.
Campaigns will still be able to target voters by age, gender, and geography across Google products from search to YouTube. However, valuable advertising options such as Customer Match, where campaigns can upload a list of potential voters' email or phone numbers and then have it "matched" with their online profiles, will no longer be available to political candidates. Google informed campaigns in 2020 about the change directly on Wednesday.
Google's decision, which came a few weeks after Twitter completely banned political ads on its platform, immediately adds new pressure on Google's most important digital advertising competitor: Facebook. The social media giant has said it is also considering changes in targeting practices, although that message has sometimes been mixed by some of its executives, most recently during an interview with Recodes Peter Kafka at the Code Media conference on Monday.
Facebook has stubbornly refused to take fact-checking to carry political ads, while CEO Mark Zuckerberg defends candidates' ability to speak freely, even if it means lying in ads. Google and YouTube are also willing to leave politicians in ads, a policy that Google did not change or address in its announcement Wednesday.
Google said it would take new steps to curb misinformation, but by changing its policy to prohibit the presentation of "profound forgery" and adverts that are "provably" false.