Months after the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election concluded, there are still allegations that Russia meddled in the process to help sway voter opinion. Google has been running an investigation to see whether Russian operatives might have exploited its advertising system in an attempt to interfere with the election. According to people who claim to be familiar with the investigation, evidence has been found that Russian operatives did indeed use the advertising platform to spread disinformation.
The sources claim that Google found tens of thousands of dollars were spent on ads by Russian agents during the elections across multiple Google products including YouTube. Other places the ads showed up included within Google search, Gmail, and the DoubleClick ad network. The sources claim they aren't authorized to talk about the investigation and declined to give names or details on how they might be associated with the investigation.
Google isn't the only tech giant that has allegedly been used by Russian agents during the election, Facebook has also had its advertising platform taken advantage of. There is no indication thus far that the same Kremlin-affiliated agency that bought ads on Facebook during the election purchased the Google ads as well.
The leak claiming evidence had been found is in contrast to what Google spokeswoman Andrea Faville told The Washington Post last month. At the time, she said Google is "always monitoring for abuse or violations of our policies and we've seen no evidence this type of ad campaign was run on our platforms."
Despite not thinking that its platform was abused, Google launched an investigation under pressure from Congress aiming to get tech firms to figure out if Russia used social media, online advertising, and other platforms to influence the 2016 presidential election. According to the sources cited by The Washington Post, the set of ads that Google is investigating cost less than $100,000. The sources also note that the search giant is still wading through data to figure out if the source of the ads we merely trolls or legitimate accounts from within Russia.
Facebook found in its investigation that an organization associated with the Russian government called Internet Research Agency had purchased about 3,000 ads on its platform. The total of those adds also totaled around $100,000 and were pro Trump, Bernie Sanders, and Jill Stein during the campaign.