Mad at Google and Facebook? So is Washington.
The state just filed lawsuits against the two technology giants because of how they have handled political advertisements over the past five years. According to the separate lawsuits, both companies failed to disclose who was buying the political ads displayed on their platforms, which is required by Washington law.
Unlike the rest of the United States, Washington state (and the city of Seattle) law requires the platform displaying political advertisements to show who paid for them. In the rest of the U.S., it’s incumbent upon whoever is paying for the ad has to disclose their name, according to Reuters.
These laws date back to the 1970s, well before today’s digital advertising marketplace was even remotely “a thing.” But based on the way these laws are written, both Facebook and Google might very well count as commercial advertisers. And their secrecy over the political ads they’ve displayed would put them in violation of the law.
“Washington’s political advertising disclosure laws apply to everyone, whether you are a small-town newspaper or a large corporation,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a press release. “Washingtonians have a right to know who’s paying for the political advertising they see.”
According to Reuters, Seattle has similar laws in place at the city level, but as of yet the city has not joined onto the state’s lawsuit.
In response to the suit, a Google spokesperson told multiple news outlets: “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.”
Rob Leathern, Facebook’s Director of Product Management, said: “The tools we are introducing set a new standard for transparency in digital advertising. We are eager to hear people’s feedback as they use these features and will continue to explore how to build upon them to ensure people know who is behind the political ads they see on Facebook. Attorney General Ferguson has raised important questions and we look forward to resolving this matter with his office quickly.”
It’s unclear whether one state’s lawsuit will have a big impact on these international corporations. Indeed, it’s unlikely that the laws of one state will suddenly spur Facebook and Google to begin operating with transparency. If Europe’s new laws couldn’t change them, what chance does Washington stand? But, in the post-Cambridge Analytica era, all we can hope from these companies is that they’ll surprise us in a good way for once.