The Silicon Valley giant has found that tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents who aimed to spread disinformation across Google’s many products, which include YouTube, as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network, the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss matters that have not been made public, WP reports.
Google runs the world’s largest online advertising business, and YouTube is the world’s largest online video site.
The discovery by Google is also significant because the ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated troll farm that bought ads on Facebook -- a sign that the Russian effort to spread disinformation online may be a much broader problem than Silicon Valley companies have unearthed so far.
Read alsoU.S. Senate Intel Committee says Russia did interfere in 2016 elex - WPGoogle launched an investigation into the matter, as Congress pressed technology companies to determine how Russian operatives used social media, online advertising, and other digital tools to influence the 2016 presidential contest and foment discord in U.S. society.
The people familiar with its investigation said that the company is looking at a set of ads that cost less than $100,000 and that it is still sorting out whether all of the ads came from trolls or whether some originated from legitimate Russian accounts.
Read alsoGoogle pulls Russia's RT network from Premium YouTube Ad Program - BloombergExecutives for Facebook and Twitter will testify before Congressional investigators on Nov. 1. Google has not said whether it will accept a similar invitation to do so.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January that Russian president Vladmir Putin intervened in the U.S. election to help Donald Trump win. But Silicon Valley companies have received little assistance from the intelligence community, people familiar with the companies' probes said.
Read alsoAnalysts elaborate on Russia's pro-Trump Campaign fake social media accountsGoogle discovered the Russian presence on its platforms by siphoning data from another technology company, Twitter, the people familiar with Google's investigation said. Twitter offers outsiders the ability to access a small amount of historical tweets for free, and charges developers for access to the entire Twitter firehose of data stemming back to 2006.
Google downloaded the data from Twitter and was able to link Russian Twitter accounts to other accounts that had used Google’s services to buy ads, the people said. This was done without the explicit cooperation of Twitter, the people said.
Read alsoRussian-linked Facebook ads targeted Michigan, Wisconsin, both key states for Trump - CNNGoogle's probe is still in its early stages, the people said. The number of ads posted and the number of times those ads were clicked on could not be learned. Google is continuing to examine its own records and is also sharing data with Facebook. Twitter and Google have not cooperated with one another in their investigations.