By Lucie GODEAU/Agence France Presse
A top Google executive has said the US internet giant has to do more to crack down on illegal content and misinformation, after American firms were grilled in Congress over Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.
“We’ve made some progress and we obviously need to do more,” Matt Brittin, president of Google’s Europe, Middle East and Africa division, told reporters at Google’s European headquarters in Dublin on Thursday.
A day after bombshell indictments in a US probe of Moscow’s election interference and possible coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia, Facebook, Google and Twitter told concerned lawmakers Tuesday they were taking necessary steps to rid their platforms of disinformation, propaganda and provocation.
In their testimony, the social media companies revealed startling new data showing many more millions of Americans were exposed to the fake news than previously thought.
In another hearing on Wednesday, Facebook said the apparent political meddling included use of its image-oriented messaging service Instagram, and that those suspect accounts were seen by some 20 million Americans last year.
The latest data on Instagram was on top of the estimated 126 million Americans exposed to Facebook posts from Russian entities seeking to create divisions during the election campaign.
In Thursday’s interview, Brittin revealed that “there had been a very limited use” of their advertising by Russian interests during the election, highlighting two accounts which spent “about $4,700 on advertising” that was not targeted on demographics or geography.
“But any misrepresentation is bad, and we have continued to look at how we can improve our policies and transparency,” he said.
– Committed to Europe –
But misinformation is not the only battle Google is facing.
In March, The Times newspaper revealed that ads for companies and other organisations were being promoted alongside extremist content, including videos posted by American white supremacist and former Ku Klux Klan member David Duke as well as by Wagdi Ghoneim, an Islamist preacher banned from the UK for inciting hatred.
The scandal exposed the weaknesses of a system of automated sale of advertising space based on algorithms, and shook advertiser confidence. It led to a slew of companies pulling ads from Google’s internet platforms.
“The advertisers pullback has been limited but relatively serious,” Brittin said, but there was “no big impact on our numbers”.
The group has in any case passed a battery of measures to reassure advertisers — which can now more precisely determine the type of content on which they want their ads to appear.
Google has also invested in ways to better detect suspicious content, including with artificial intelligence and machine learning tools, hiring significant numbers of people, and putting in place faster procedures in case of emergency.
Brittin also said Google was committed to developing its European operations, which count about 14,000 employees.
“We want to continue to invest in Europe,” he said, even as the European Union wages a major crackdown on member states bending rules to give big international firms unfair tax breaks, with Apple and Google in the firing line.
In June, the EU slapped Google with a record fine of 2.4 billion euros ($2.8 billion) for illegally favouring its shopping service in search results, accusing the company of booking huge profits while denying state-coffers much-needed money.
“Taxes are due where we make our profits and that’s in the US,” Brittin said.