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A watchdog group pretended to be Russian and bought 'divisive' Google ads — now, Google is blasting the group for its ties to Oracle (GOOG, GOOGL)

Greg Sandoval
Sundar Pichai

Greg Sandoval/Business Insider


  • A watchdog group posed as a group of infamous Russian internet trolls to find out how effectively Google was at combatting foreign agents from buying "politically divisive ads."
  • The group bought the ads using rubles and a Russian-based IP address and used similar language and images as were allegedly used by Russian operatives to influence the 2016 US presidential elections.
  • According to the watchdog group, Google did nothing to stop them.
  • Google, for its part, is blasting the watchdog group for its ties to Oracle, a major rival to the company.

A watchdog group said Tuesday that it posed as a "Russian Troll farm" and bought "politically divisive ads" on Google,  and the search giant did nothing to thwart the effort — suggesting, says the watchdog group, that the search company hasn't done enough to prevent foreign agents from influencing US elections.

Campaign for Accountability (“CfA”), which identifies itself as a nonprofit, nonpartisan watchdog group that focuses on public accountability, said that it masqueraded as the Internet Research Agency (IRA), the infamous Russian "troll farm" known for spreading misinformation over the web in an attempt to influence the 2016 US presidential elections.

The group said that it paid for the ads in rubles and used a Russia-based IP address. 

“The ease with which CfA was able to replicate the 2016 Russian ad campaign shows Google has failed to keep its promise to prevent foreign actors from interfering in our elections," CfA Executive Director Daniel Stevens said in a press release.  

In their response, Google representatives noted the ties between CfA and Oracle, one of Google's business rivals. Oracle has donated money to the group.

“We’ve built numerous controls, technical detection systems and a detailed mapping of foreign troll accounts," Google said in a statement.

"To date, largely because of this work, the abuse from foreign entities has been limited. Now that one of our US-based competitors is actively misrepresenting itself, as part of a stunt to impersonate Russian trolls, we have taken further appropriate action to upgrade our systems and processes. We’d encourage Oracle and its astroturf groups to work together with us to prevent real instances of foreign abuse  — that’s how we work with other technology companies.” 

Ken Glueck, Oracle's senior vice president denied that it played a role in CfA's covert operation.

 “We have absolutely no idea what Google is talking about," Glueck said in a statement.  "This is the first we’ve heard of this.  Wish we had a ruble for every time Google blamed their problems on us." 

Since the news about IRA's 2016 campaign became public, all the big social networks are under pressure from the US government to prevent their platforms from being used by foreign agents to influence more elections. 

Last October, The Washington Post reported that Google had found proof that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads that appeared across many of Google's sites, including "YouTube, as well as advertising associated with Google search, Gmail, and the company’s DoubleClick ad network." 

Google later disclosed in a blog post that the actual amount of money spent on ads by the Russians was $4700. Nonetheless, Google  indicated last month that managers had bolstered the company's systems to enable them to "identify influence operations launched by foreign governments." Google pulled down 80 YouTube channels it said were connected to Iran or Russia.

CfA's report comes a day before seniors leadership from Facebook and Twitter are due to appear on Capitol Hill to answer questions on a range of issues, including what they're doing to combat the spread of disinformation.  As of Tuesday afternoon, Google had declined a request to send CEO Sundar Pichai, or Alphabet CEO Larry Page. 

The decision not to appear alongside Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg is a controversial one. Critics and rivals have blasted Google, some demanding that the company's top managers be subpoenaed.      

"With the 2018 campaign underway, Google clearly isn’t doing enough to protect our public discourse from malicious advertising campaigns," CfA's Stevens said. "Congress needs to investigate Google’s conduct to ensure Google is taking this threat seriously.”

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See Also:

SEE ALSO: A Russian troll factory had a $1.25 million monthly budget to interfere in the 2016 US election

SEE ALSO: Facebook takes down over 200 accounts and pages run by the IRA, a notorious Russian troll farm