TTP Report: Google Allowing Misleading Voting Ads
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 7, 2022
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 report revealing that Google continues to serve misleading ads to Americans searching for how to vote in the upcoming midterms. TTP found similar issues with scammers using Google search ads to mislead people about voter registration ahead of the 2020 election. Two years later, voters are still served misleading ads when Googling for information about the polls—including Spanish-language ads targeting Hispanic voters, a critical and fast-growing voter bloc.
Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Michelle Kuppersmith said, “For years, we’ve heard countless experts emphasize the importance of accurate election information, but Google still hasn’t dedicated the necessary resources to responsibly approve ads for even the most basic searches about voting. If Google can’t profit from searches for election information responsibly, it shouldn’t be profiting at all.”
This report follows TTP research in 2020 that found Google was selling ads to scammy advertisers in search results for terms like “register to vote” and “vote by mail.” After TTP first highlighted the problem in a June 2020 report, Google told media outlets it had removed some of the ads that charged large fees to register to vote or sought to harvest user data. Two years later, it’s happening all over again.
For this report, TTP searched top queries related to “voting” and “midterm election”—in both English and Spanish—and recorded 291 ads that appeared in the first ten pages for those searches. Nearly 1 in 10 (27) of the ads TTP observed directed users to so-called search arbitrage sites that feature low-quality search results teeming with ads. These sites advertise on Google to generate clicks. But the low-quality search results mean that users are less likely to find the voting information they seek and may eventually grow frustrated and give up.
TTP also came across ads for a dubious records site that charges users to check their voter registration status—something that people can do for free on any number of state and non-profit websites. This site only informed the user at the end of a 10-minute information entry process that they would have to pay $23 to $28 to check if they’re registered to vote.
TruthFinder, the entity requesting that bogus payment, is the subject of hundreds of complaints on the Better Business Bureau’s website, including more than 300 complaints in the last three years. Customers have complained about reports containing inaccurate information, unfair billing practices, and more. Still, Google permits them to buy ads in important, election-related queries.
Ms. Kuppersmith continued, “Google talks a big game about being a trustworthy source for information around these and past elections, but it continuously places profits first. If Google continues to allow the highest bidders to place whatever sites they want ahead of authoritative information in search results, these voters will continue to be led astray.”
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.