Google bars political ads in Philippines ahead of elections

Image copyright AFP/Getty Images Image caption Google’s ad policy was under scrutiny in November after it was found to have blocked Facebook ads linked to a US protest group

Google is banning political advertisements for the first time in advance of elections in the Philippines in May.

The internet company, in a blog post, said the move was part of an “explicit, public commitment” to promote transparency in political ads.

Candidates will be forced to confirm their identity and address before any political ads are shown to users.

The Philippines could elect a new president in May.

‘Outrageous actions’

The changes come following months of pressure from activists, who have argued the country has become rife with fake news and misleading campaign material.

“If you can’t trust the content of political ads that are circulating to get you through the day and before the elections, how can you trust those that are supporting you?” one campaigner wrote in a blog post earlier this week.

Google said it will limit its role in elections in two ways.

First, it said it will disclose the identity of those running political ads and the amounts they are spending. Second, it will provide its tech-makers with training on election issues and “outsourcing” services to help political parties comply with new rules.

“Political ads should not surprise or disrupt the daily life of our users, and they should be played with with care by both the advertisers and users,” the company said.

“We believe our new policy, training and transparency efforts will help boost user trust in political ads.”

A number of social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have faced criticism in recent months for having blocked adverts related to US protests which reportedly included claims that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was involved in child sex trafficking.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption The Philippines is set to elect a new president in May

In a separate blog post, Google said it would “aggressively enforce” its new political ads rules and bring in a new set of “election-related content reviews”.

This will enable the company to educate third-party ad resellers and measure the impact of its tools on ads aimed at particular audiences.

In a statement on the blog post, Hillary Clinton’s campaign spokesman Brian Fallon praised Google’s move.

“Our campaign was one of the first to make an aggressive call for transparency in online election advertising, and we are incredibly pleased to see Google is finally doing what it said it would in 2016,” he said.

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption Google is the world’s largest web service

“No longer should unscrupulous advertisers have the ability to hide behind the anonymity of the internet and mislead audiences.”

The Philippines has become one of the top ad-spending economies in Asia, with a strong marketing industry, especially for major brands, and a vast, online-savvy population.

During the 2014 general election, Google’s ad targeting was found to be so effective that the company enjoyed a 300% boost in clicks on its ads, according to industry analyst firm Source: Bloomberg and the Philippines Ad Reporters Network.

The country is also used as a testing ground for Google’s targeted advertising systems.

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