Conservative ad targeting the Labour Party tops Google listing sans disclaimer

An election propaganda website paid for by The Conservative & Unionist Party briefly showed up as the top search result for the Labour Party on Google and seemed to belong to the latter as it was not accompanied by a disclosure about who paid for the ad.

The said website, featuring the domain name www.labourmanifesto.co.uk, appeared as the top search result for "Labour" on Google search, giving Internet users the impression that the website belonged to the Labour Party and contained details about the party's promises ahead of the elections.

Even though the website was accompanied by an "Ad" logo on Google search, indicating that it was a sponsored page, its listing did not disclose who paid for it. On the other hand, the second listing on Google search- action.labour.org.uk displayed both the "Ad" logo as well as a disclosure stating that the listing was sponsored by the Labour Party.

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The sponsored website, which briefly appeared on Google search listings without a disclaimer but featured a disclaimer later on, took potshots at the Labour Party's proposals with reference to Brexit, future referendums, and spending plans.

The sponsored page contained headers such as "No plans for Brexit", "Higher taxes", and "Two more referendums", and also severely criticised Jeremy Corbyn, stating that the Labour Party can't decide on whether to back the Brexit deal or to renegotiate and that the Party would "force the country though the chaos of another two referendums: one on Brexit and one on Scottish independence".

Google failed to check the abuse of its platform

The site went on to state that the Labour Party "has committed to an additional spending splurge of £1.2 trillion over the next five years if they get elected" and to pay for the extra spending of £650 million a day, the party would force taxpayers to pay an extra £2,400 each year in the form of homes tax, movers tax, gifts tax, fuel duty hikes, increased holiday tax, and higher income tax.

Considering that the website appeared at the top of Google search listings and did not contain a disclosure that it was sponsored by The Conservative & Unionist Party, it could have realistically influenced innocent voters into forming a negative opinion about Corbyn's party.

"I surmise that this ad was allowed to run without attribution because no one at Google actually vetted it. Google assumes advertisers will follow the rules and relies on automated filtering to weed out the majority of bad actors. If they don't, users will flag transgressions and Google will resolve them later," said Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate at Comparitech.com.

"This approve now, remove later approach is used by a lot of social media, ad networks, and user-generated content platforms that deal with a high volume of content. Those who abuse these platforms can often reach a significant number of people before they're reprimanded and their content removed," he added.

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