TTP Investigation: Google Pushing Scam Ads on Americans Searching for How to Vote
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 29, 2020
Contact: Michael Clauw, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202.780.5750
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Campaign for Accountability (CfA), a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the Tech Transparency Project (TTP), released a new report revealing that Google is allowing scammers to prey on Americans seeking information about how to vote in the upcoming election, despite the company’s claims that it is making efforts to provide voters with “authoritative and objective information.” TTP found that search terms like “register to vote,” “vote by mail,” and “where is my polling place” generated ads linking to websites that charge bogus fees for voter registration, harvest user data, or plant unwanted software on people’s browsers.
CfA Executive Director Daniel E. Stevens said, “Americans deserve to have easy access to reliable information about how to vote. Instead, Google, which is a top source of information for many Americans, is allowing scammers to trick its users into clicking on misleading ads. Google needs to be held accountable for delivering its users into the pockets of scam artists.”
When searching for “absentee ballot,” “early voting,” “voter registration,” and related terms, TTP found that nearly one third of the ads served — 189 out of 613 — directed users to problematic sites that try to extract personal information for marketing purposes, install deceptive browser extensions, or bombard people with misleading or useless ads. One specific ad directs users to a website that encourages users to hand over personal information and credit card data, and charges up to $129 to register them to vote.
TTP also found 43 ads for so-called browser hijackers. These browser extensions often use the promise of government forms or other useful information to trick people into installing unwanted software that routes them to sites that serve more ads or harvest their data.
The ads identified by TTP appear to violate Google’s policies that prohibit misrepresentation, collecting user data for unclear purposes, and unwanted software. They may also run afoul of Federal Trade Commission regulations banning “unfair or deceptive advertising.” TTP recently identified similar scam ads that target people searching Google for information about coronavirus stimulus checks.
Mr. Stevens continued, “The presence of scam ads on Google is not new, but the continued prevalence of these ads is particularly damaging as millions of Americans are trying to figure out how to vote remotely for the first time. Google is failing to deliver accurate information to its users, which it claims is its mission.”
Campaign for Accountability is a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog organization that uses research, litigation, and aggressive communications to expose misconduct and malfeasance in public life and hold those who act at the expense of the public good accountable for their actions.