Google launches searchable database on US political ads

Political ads on Google are getting more transparent. You can now easily find them all cataloged on a new company website that tracks who is buying what and for how much.

Launched on Wednesday, the new site offers an eye-opening view of how online political ad spending can work. It offers a breakdown on ad spending by state, who the biggest buyers are, and which popular Google keywords the ads have appeared with.

The site also offers summaries of individual ad campaigns from each buyer. For instance, you can look up a political action committee and find out the locations and demographic groups its ad campaigns have been targeting.

Google's site also catalogs what ads ran with the campaign, and how many views they received. The data on the site only goes back to May 31, but will be updated each week. "So as we head into election season, anyone can see new ads that get uploaded or new advertisers that decide to run Google ads," company product lead Michee Smith said in a blog post on Wednesday.

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Google launched the new site amid ongoing concerns over US election security. Last October, the company said it uncovered evidence that Russian operatives had bought political ads over the platform to influence the 2016 presidential race. "Tens of thousands of dollars" were spent on the ads, which were displayed on YouTube and over Google Search and Gmail.

To prevent future interference, Google in May said it would launch an upcoming transparency site on election ads. The company also began demanding all political ad buyers confirm they're a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident. To do this, buyers must first submit a government-issued ID and other "key information" to the company before they can place any ads. Those same ads must also clearly display who paid for them.

The data on Google's new political ad transparency site covers video, image and text-based ads. However, the site does have some limitations. For instance, the database only covers advertisements that mention a candidate or a federally-elected office holder. It also doesn't show you where the ad was displayed on Google or with what keywords, although the video-based ads probably appeared on YouTube.

Despite the limitations, Google said the new site promises to provide "unprecedented, data-driven insights" into election ads on the company's platforms. Anyone, including researchers and political watchdogs, can also dig through the ad data via a search function or through a Google-developed API.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.