back to article Google says no more shady anonymous web ads – if you want your billboard up, you've got to show us some valid ID

On Thursday Google said it will require all advertisers on its platforms to verify their identities, an initiative that aims to make online advertising more transparent by allowing people to see who paid for internet pitches. In 2018, the Chocolate Factory implemented identity verification for political ads, after the extent …

  1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    A Good Step

    This is a good step as it allows one to know who is pitching the ad if it is not already transparent. For most ads I doubt this will have much of an effect as the vast majority are from (semi)-legitimate organizations.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: A Good Step

      So the ad protesting wind farms will goto "society for protecting fluffy bunnies.org" and a Delaware business number, but won't tell you which oil company owns them

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: A Good Step

        "won't tell you which oil company owns them"

        It might take some digging, but as a general rule, every corporation should have registered a human to which you can send a subpoena, with the state that gives them corporate status.

        I would expect UK law to be similar.

        You might have to do some digging, but it SHOULD be possible to get to the bottom of ANY shadow corporation that's inside the USA. For foreign corporations, not so much... (but that's when the red light should come on and warn you it's possibly manipulative or an outright hoax).

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: A Good Step

          > You might have to do some digging, but it SHOULD be possible to get to the bottom of ANY shadow corporation that's inside the USA.

          Tell that to ICANN

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Meh

            Re: A Good Step

            yeah ICANN seems to (at least in the past) accept just about ANY unverified contact information, at least in my opinion...

            Not quite the same as what Google appears to want to do.

        2. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: A Good Step

          "every corporation should have registered a human to which you can send a subpoena"

          Let me introduce you to the concept of a Delaware registered company.

          They are registered there for a reason. It's the very next best thing to putting them in the Cayman Islands.

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Devil

            Re: A Good Step

            A quick search led to this:

            https://corp.delaware.gov/agents/

            So a Delaware corporation needs to have a "registered agent" for service of subpoenas, etc. If this is NOT being properly enforced, then a U.S. Federal lawsuit needs to be filed to change this...

            In any case if this pertains to the "payer of the ads", and Delaware corporations _ARE_ that shady by definition, you could simply reject doing business with ANY entity incorporated there. [and if that becomes a widespread response, Delaware will have to modify their policies]

            However, because I know that many people have opinions about corporations being inherently evil, etc. and aren't familiar with setting one up and what the legal requirements are [in the USA anyway], I'd just like to say that it's probably NOT as bad as you might think.

            (IANAL but I've had to deal with them from time to time)

            1. doublelayer Silver badge

              Re: A Good Step

              "So a Delaware corporation needs to have a "registered agent" for service of subpoenas, etc."

              Great. Except we can't start sending out subpoenas, because we aren't a court. Even if they are breaking a law, we can't subpoena them. We could file complaints, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything will happen. In this situation, though, it doesn't matter about that either because we're after transparency, not enforcement of a law. The corporate subpoena-receiver has no legal duty to tell us things we want to know, such as who put the money in the bank account and who took the money out again to get an ad released. They won't tell us, and there's no requirement for them to do so. So we will get pretty much nothing from this.

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: A Good Step

              Not sure if you are being serious, but researching these kinds of things (which was an aspect of my job in a previous life) can take an enormous amount of effort, time and money. This is not usually the case with mom and pop companies; at worst you'll end up reaching a cousin, parent or child of the person who has actual control, but bigger organisations tend to have lawyers and accountants with overactive imaginations who come up with mind-numbing schemes, usually for very abstract but not actually nefarious reasons. Those with negotiable honesty amongst the rich and powerful are sort of middle ground: not as hideously complex as (many, not all) big corporations but in the big scheme of things they're small enough to fly under the radar unless and until someone spills the beans.

              Which brings us to Panama. Do you know why there were comparatively few Americans in those papers? Being a perceptive person you have probably guessed it: Delaware.

        3. ElectricPics

          Re: A Good Step

          Your naivety is quite touching but you're right, the ultimate owners of any corporate Should be identifiable, but many aren't, especially those based in US and UK tax havens.

        4. LucreLout

          Re: A Good Step

          It might take some digging, but as a general rule, every corporation should have registered a human to which you can send a subpoena

          The BBC use a wholly fictitious person for TV licencing demands. Nobody changes signature as often as their made up person has, which is a bit of a give away.

          In the UK you can, outside of official circles, use any name you like provided you recognise it when approached with it.

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Pirate

      Re: A Good Step

      right, and for political ads, regardless of the content, they could require that the funder identify himself and/or the organization. then let them say "whatever".

      But somehow I doubt it's the way Senator (*cough*) Warren, the senator from Massachusetts that once claimed to be Native American to get affirmative action favoritism, claims it is. She HAS been known to, uh, STRETCH facts to her own favor (read: LIE) after all... [but we can determine this ourselves, without the need of NANNY ISP to do it FOR us, thank you]

      In any case, let's just stop the censorship in ALL directions, and JUST let us know who's paying for it.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: A Good Step

        Show me a lawyer who doesn't stretch the facts...

        I'm confused about Warren's Native American claim. Did she do it intentionally to jump the queue, or was she just proud to have a link? I've got a (very) distant relative who led black soldiers in the Civil War, and I'm kind of proud of it. But I doubt that I could prove it with a DNA test as Warren did.

        I do like her politics though. She's made a bit of a career attempting to equalise the power of consumers vs the financial business. I think this country needs that right now (as we slide into another recession with most of the post-2008 protections repealed by the current administration).

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Unhappy

          Re: A Good Step

          "I doubt that I could prove it with a DNA test as Warren did."

          Uhh... you think Warren *PROVED* Native American heritage? Her DNA test was STATISTICALLY ZERO, less than 0.1% as I recall. That would be at LEAST 10 generations of separation, if I do my math correctly (if it's actually _THAT_ _HIGH_). That as opposed to *me* who DOES have Native American ancestry [Taos tribe from New Mexico, as well as others], and my late uncle once did a geneology study and traced the family tree back to the REAL Pocahontas. yeah no kidding!

          Warren is NOT a Native American. It was a LIE, and she did it to get into Harvard. You cannot trust ANYTHING she says. You know she's LYING when her mouth opens.

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: A Good Step

            She didn't do it to get into Harvard - she was already a staff member.

            Harvard did, rather less excusably, use it to claim that they had a black professor and therefore weren't racist.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Well, I suppose I'll have a better idea of who is telling me to buy more of what I have just bought and don't actually want any more of.

    Thank God for Adblock

  3. doublelayer Silver badge

    Malicious ads

    I wonder how long it will take for malicious advertisers to find a loophole in this. Google already allows loading ads containing javascript with very few limits--for example, javascript that redirects the browser to another page, which is malicious enough. Frequently, that type of ad is used for the "Your computer has a virus" scam. If they're not scanning for or preventing that, they're certainly not doing that broad a job inspecting things. So the only question for me is whether they accept random numbers without verification or whether someone has to get public documents from someone else's company and submit them.

    1. Chris the bean counter

      Re: Malicious ads

      Its a good first step especially if all advertisers have to prove personal ID and not just company documents.

      I expect its impact over next few months will be surprisingly positive at reducing frauds.

      Yes there will be loopholes but not too hard to gradually tighten them up

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: Malicious ads

        I like your optimism, but I am far too cynical to think that has any chance. It wouldn't be that hard to scan the provided scripts and see if they bounce users to other pages. A list of regexes would take out all the easy ways of doing that, requiring a sneaky method of doing so. Yet, if I read the scripts of such ads, they're not bothering to do anything sneaky. That means Google isn't checking. Why should I believe they're going to act differently with this information?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: Malicious ads

          The "who supplied this ad" link will simply go to an ad agency or PR company. Presumably they have no obligation to reveal who their client is and then if their client is a single person or think tank they have no obligation to say where they got the money.

          That's what they did here with $5K limits on corporate donations. Certain oil/mining companies simply hired a bunch of consultants. Coincidentally the consultants then each donated $5K personally, of their own free will, to a campaign for the candidate who looked favourably on the extraction industries.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Malicious ads

            > Coincidentally the consultants then each donated $5K personally, of their own free will, to a campaign for the candidate who looked favourably on the extraction industries.

            A long time ago there was a family "friend" who did something like that. He was tasked by a very well known organisation to fly a suitcase to a certain other organisation (enemies of my enemies, etc.) The certain other organisation then got in touch with their donors to thank them for the five million…

            Did you say five million? But we sent you ten million!

  4. Dan 55 Silver badge

    I find it hard to believe Google can run ads on their ad network without knowing who the advertiser is. If this is true, how come Google are allowed to take billions from unknown third parties from probably every country in the world without their door getting kicked down at 3am?

    1. sketharaman

      Google Knows!

      I run a marketing solutions company and we've been buying Google Ads for over 10 years. Of course, Google knows the identity of the Advertiser. If Google wanted to, it can also verify some or all of the ID by using the bank account or credit card information submitted by the Advertiser. (For the uninitiated, it's impossible to set up a Google Ads account without adding at least one funding source). But what Google is doing with its new measure, I'm guessing, is seeking additional info like incorporation location, making the advertiser info public, and simultaneously giving a chance to the advertiser to clean up their accounts, if required, and submit the info regarding name, address, incorporation location etc. that they want their prospects and customers to know them by. For example, when I set up my Google Ads account, it was in my personal name. Even if I subsequently run my company ads on the same account, it doesn't matter since the ID is between me and Google. But, if my ID is going to be shown to the public, I'd rather change the name to my company name, which is how I want my ad to be seen.

  5. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Tweets Included

    In 2018, the Chocolate Factory implemented identity verification for political ads, after the extent of 2016 media funded by foreign groups to sway or muddy elections became apparent.

    Even had Russiagate not been such an utter crock of shit in the first place, It's very difficult to see how scary foreign political fake advertisements meant to confuddle and bemuse the moronate are in the slightest way more vile and appalling that the ones made by the regular parties and their lobbyist masters.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Tweets Included

      yeah, ain't it the truth?

      On occasion, for issues that I could vote either way on, I base my decision on who has the more irritating ads... (or worst behavior in public). THAT side gets the "no" vote.

  6. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    3rd party trick

    Advertising is delegated so many times that the name of the business paying Google isn't going to mean anything. This is why I block ads. Eventually there's flashing animation, sound, and page hijacks.

  7. Chris the bean counter

    Excellent - Hopefully will also exptend to Android App developers too (Like Apple do)

    This is excellent to reduce fraud especially if advertisers have to prove personal ID and not just company documents.

    Looking forward to it being rolled out globally. I expect its impact over next few months will be surprisingly positive at reducing frauds.

    Yes there will be loopholes but not too hard to gradually tighten them up.

    Hopefully Facebook will follow suit

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Meh

      Re: Excellent - Hopefully will also exptend to Android App developers too (Like Apple do)

      Unless I totally misinterpreted what you wrote...

      Please do NOT encourage Android to LOCK DOWN like Apple, unlesse it's just for the use of google ad services. One of the BIGGEST advantages of Android development is the ability to load YOUR APK on ANY Android device, if the end-user jumps through a couple of minor hoops, WITHOUT their "store" in between - that and FREE DEV TOOLS.

      But yeah - locking down the AD NETWORK, which goes through google's ad services as I understand it, THIS would probably be a GOOD thing.

  8. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Nicely put!

    "It’s like a one-way mirror: they can see the public, but the public cannot see them," the researchers said.

    Very well put. I can't think if a better way of describing the privacy imbalance.

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