Google suspends targeted online ads in Israel until after elections: report
LOIC VENANCE (AFP/File)
Internet giant Google has reportedly decided to suspend targeted online advertising in Israel until after the country’s April 9 national elections as part of its global efforts to prevent its platforms and services from being used by interested parties to manipulate voters.
A report by the Globes business daily said that Israeli advertising firms received notice that targeted or “personal” advertising would not be available on Google ad-buying systems for any companies dealing with political advertising.
The move comes as part of a global crackdown on online manipulation by big tech companies -- including Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram -- amid anxiety that those platforms are being used by state actors and other interested parties to manipulate elections by distributing fake news reports that inflame political divisions and confirm voters’ biases.
Google’s decision to bar targeted advertising in Israel was made out of concern that the company would be unable to distinguish legitimate political ads from false or misleading ones intended to manipulate voters, according to the Globes report.
The move leaves Facebook as the main player in online political advertising ahead of the Israeli elections. But the social media network is also poised to introduce new transparency measures to conspicuously identify the source behind campaign advertisements and news sources.
“Because of Google’s move, we’re left in the current elections with only Facebook, which is telling us in other words, ‘Do what you want, but we’re going to require transparency,'” one Israeli marketing executive told Globes.
The proliferation of data pertaining to voting factors such as political views, social connections, sexual orientation and even spending habits makes targeted online messaging an attractive tool for campaigning, or other interested parties seeking to manipulate voting patterns.
Last month, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency warned of a concerted effort by a “foreign country” to intervene in the upcoming April 9 vote.
The Shin Bet did not explicitly name the country directing the alleged election tampering, but said that it would come by way of cyber hackers.
Since Israel votes with paper ballots, any cyber election meddling would likely involve efforts to manipulate public opinion by spreading false information online.
In Israel, campaigning laws generally require that political entities identify themselves in their advertisements. But those rules do not apply to online media, since they were passed before the advent of social media.
An effort by Israel’s Central Elections Committee to apply the same legal standards of transparency to new forms of campaigning, specifically online media, was reportedly agreed upon by all political parties except for incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party.
The reported objection came as Likud launched its own online news channel providing Netanyahu -- who has an acrimonious relationship with Israel's traditional media -- a new platform for promoting his views ahead of the vote.
Netanyahu and his faction have often used fake news tactically to broaden their base, most memorably during the 2015 elections when they launched a non-digital election-day campaign inflaming right-wing anxieties over a massive surge in Arab voter turnout.
Though the spike in Arab voters never materialized, post-election data showed an unexpected surge in right-wing ballots cast during the last two hours of voting.
Last year, Likud was fined NIS 350,000 for taking illegal campaign donations.
Netanyahu has been prime minister for a total of more than 12 years, from 1996 to 1999 and again since 2009. If re-elected, he could next year surpass the record set by Israel's founding father David Ben-Gurion, who spent more than 13 years in office.
Most public opinion polls show Netanyahu's Likud with a firm grip on power in the run-up to the April 9 vote. But dark horse centrist candidate Benny Gantz, a former IDF chief, has slowly been closing the gap and the prospect of a centrist alliance could threaten the Likud lead.
The fragmented nature of Israel's proportional representation system means the months ahead of the elections are hard-fought, with alliances formed and broken as politicians try to navigate the minefield of uncertain public opinion.
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Googles again influences elections. Look at he 2018 election in the US