A security camera is mounted near Google. Picture: BLOOMBERG
A security camera is mounted near Google. Picture: BLOOMBERG

San Francisco — The US state of Washington on Monday announced it was suing Google and Facebook for not abiding by local law requirements regarding keeping records of political ads and their backers.

Campaign finance laws in that state called on ad sellers to keep track of who was behind ads and how much was spent, and to make the information available to the public, Washington attorney-general Bob Ferguson said in a release.

Suits filed in state court accuse Facebook and Google of failing to meet these obligations since 2013.

"Washington’s political advertising disclosure laws apply to everyone, whether you are a small-town newspaper or a large corporation," Ferguson said in the release.

In the past decade, Washington candidates and political committees reported about $3.4m in payments to Facebook and $1.5m to Google related to advertising, according to the state attorney-general.

Google and Facebook dominate the market for online advertising.

Google and Facebook are among internet firms dealing with criticism and concerns about online platforms being used to spread division and misinformation with the potential to sway elections.

A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display. File Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC
A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display. File Picture: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC

In May, Facebook said it had begun implementing a policy requiring labelling and verification of identities of those paying for political messages.

The move came in response to criticism over Facebook’s role in allowing disinformation to spread during the 2016 US election, in many cases with the help of automated "bots" or disguised Russian-based accounts.

Facebook said its new handling of political ads had taken hold in the US on Facebook and Instagram. It intended to implement the same policy worldwide in the coming months "The tools we are introducing set a new standard for transparency in digital advertising," Facebook director of product management Rob Leathern said in response to an AFP inquiry.

"Attorney-general Ferguson has raised important questions and we look forward to resolving this matter with his office quickly."

In an e-mail to AFP, a Google official wrote: "We are committed to transparency and disclosure in political advertising. We are currently reviewing the complaint and will be engaging with the attorney-general’s office."

AFP