Washington state is suing Google and Facebook for failing to disclose political ad buyers

Washington state’s attorney general is suing Google and Facebook for allegedly failing to provide adequate public information about who buys election ads on their platforms.

Federal law requires that political ads in print and on TV indicate who purchased them, but digital advertisements don’t yet require the same disclosures. In Washington state, however, any advertiser must maintain public records about political ads that anyone can browse.

Google and Facebook declined to produce that information when a local newspaper asked for it, the suits allege.

The tech platforms have faced increased criticism for their roles in enabling Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Recently, Facebook, Google, Twitter and others announced new policies to provide more transparency. Facebook will now require identity verification for anyone buying election and issue-based ads and force disclosure of the buyer. Google will have a similar policy.

Still, Washington’s complaints could set a precedent for other states with similar laws to file suits.

“Washington’s political advertising disclosure laws apply to everyone, whether you are a small-town newspaper or a large corporation,” Ferguson said in a press release regarding the lawsuits. “Washingtonians have a right to know who’s paying for the political advertising they see.”

The state is seeking penalties and injunctions against both companies.

You can read the complaint against Google here and Facebook here.

A Google spokesperson said that the company is “committed to transparency and disclosure” and is currently reviewing the complaint and will be engaging with the attorney general’s office.

A Facebook representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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