Google has discovered Russian operatives spent thousands of dollars on ads on its YouTube, Gmail and Google Search products in an effort to meddle in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, a person briefed on the company’s probe told Reuters on Monday.
The ads do not appear to be from the same Kremlin-affiliated entity that bought ads on Facebook, but may indicate a broader Russian online disinformation effort, according to the source, who was not authorized to discuss details of Google’s confidential investigation.
Google’s investigation is still in its early stages, according to the Washington Post, which reported that the company is in the process of dividing troll ads from legitimate Russian sources. But the company reportedly found tens of thousands of dollars spent on ads across on array of Google-owned platforms, including Gmail, YouTube and search.
“We have a set of strict ads policies including limits on political ad targeting and prohibitions on targeting based on race and religion,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement to The Verge. “We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries.”
The revelation is likely to trigger further scrutiny of the role that Silicon Valley technology giants may have unwittingly played during last year’s election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow’s aim was to help elect Donald Trump.
Google did not deny the story, and in a statement pointed to its existing ad policies that limit political ad targeting and prohibit targeting based on race or religion.
“We are taking a deeper look to investigate attempts to abuse our systems, working with researchers and other companies, and will provide assistance to ongoing inquiries,” a Google spokeswoman said on Monday.
Twitter declined to make comments for this story. Executives for Facebook and Twitter will testify before congressional investigators on 1 November. Google has not said whether it will accept a similar invitation to do so.
Google’s probe is still in its early stages, and the number of ads posted and number of times those ads were clicked on could not be learned. Meanwhile 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.
Congressional committees have launched multiple investigations into Russian interference, but concern about Silicon Valley’s role has surged over the past month against the backdrop of a cascade of revelations about how Russia appears to have leveraged their platforms to spread advertisements.