Google's internal investigation found evidence that Russian operatives bought ads meant to be displayed in its apps in late 2016 with the goal of influencing the outcome of the last presidential election in the United States, The Washington Post reported on Monday, citing people close to the Alphabet-owned company. Apart from Google Search, the state-sponsored ads were also supposedly served through other popular services from the tech giant like Gmail and YouTube, with the uncovered campaigns reportedly being worth tens of thousands of dollars but less than $100,000 in total. The investigation is said to have been prompted by Washington after Congress pressured the Silicon Valley to identify how Kremlin utilized their digital platforms in order to affect the public discourse of the U.S. and consequently influence the last iteration of its elections for the highest political office in the country. The Mountain View, California-based tech giant is reportedly still in the process of determining whether all of the identified ads originated from so-called "troll accounts" linked to Russia or if some were bought by legitimate profiles that just happen to be owned by Russians.
The latest development is yet another update on the controversy spanning an entire calendar year which started after some political actors in the U.S. publicly criticized digital giants like Google and Facebook for not doing enough to combat the dissemination of fake news in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Former President Obama reportedly personally warned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about the issue after the co-founder of the largest social media network on the planet dismissed reports of Facebook enabling foreign entities to meddle with the democratic process in the country. Following that interaction, Facebook introduced a number of initiatives meant to combat factually inaccurate, sensationalist, and misleading content, with Google making similar moves.
The newly uncovered state-sponsored ads apparently aren't directly related to the ones that Facebook discovered earlier this year, with the company recently agreeing to provide U.S. authorities with information about 3,000 advertising campaigns that were supposedly bought by Russian agents in late 2016. While both discoveries are said to be connected to Russia, the ads found by Google's investigators weren't officially purchased by the same troll account farms that paid for the Facebook ones, sources said, suggesting that the alleged Kremlin-run misinformation campaign is more complex than it was previously believed. Officials from Facebook and Twitter are set to attend a congressional hearing on November 1st where they will be questioned on the matter, though it remains unclear whether Google representatives will also be present at the voluntary examination.