Paid Programming: Investigating streaming ads during the election season

Paid Programming: Investigating streaming ads during the election season

YouTube TV

YouTube TV logo

YouTube TV is an ad-supported video streaming service owned by YouTube, a subsidiary of Google. The platform operates in the U.S. and had 2.5 million subscribers as of August 2020.

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Overall grade

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Our analysis

Compared to other streaming platforms, Google has spent longer maturing its approach to political advertising and ad transparency. Google enforces strict rules for vetting political advertisers, prevents certain types of targeting, and gives end users targeting information. Google does have an ad library; however, it only includes "election ads" in that library.



Political Ads

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Partial grade: A

Google has strict policies for political advertisers on their platform, including an official verification and vetting process and rules that prevent certain types of targeting. However, Google's definition of "election ads" is narrow.

Does it allow political ads?
Yes

What are its rules for placing political ads?
Google has strict policies for political advertisers that are running election ads. Such advertisers must be verified and vetted before running ads, and are prohibited from using the more complex targeting tools Google offers, such as custom and similar audiences. However, its definition of election ads is narrow and is limited to ads supporting or opposing political representatives, campaigns, or ballot initiatives. Election ads don’t include ads for products or services, ads run by news organizations, or issue-based ads, for instance.

Do political advertisers need to verify their identity in order to place ads?
Yes. Google requires verification for advertisers who want to run election ads. However, this rule does not apply to non-election ads.

Does it clearly mark political ads?
Yes

Does it require a "paid for" disclosure for political ads?
Yes. Google requires all election ads to include a disclaimer identifying who has paid for the ad. Typically Google automatically generates the “Paid for by” disclosure from the advertiser's verification application. However, this rule does not apply to non-election ads.

Does it fact-check or otherwise vet political ads?
No


Ad Transparency

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Partial grade: B

The Google Transparency Report is an ad transparency library that allows researchers and other third party watchdogs to monitor political ads during elections. However, the library only includes narrowly-defined "election ads."

Does it voluntarily report ad spend?
Yes

Does it have a public ad transparency library? (See our guidelines)
Yes. Google releases a transparency report which contains a public-facing political ad library.

Does that library include ALL ads, not just political ads?
No


Ad Targeting

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Partial grade: B

Google pulls in a great deal of data about its users to power its massive ad tech platform. Google does have a number of policies in place to prevent political advertisers from micro-targeting or exploiting data, but those rules only apply to "election advertisers."

Does the platform allow political advertisers to target you based on:

Genre
(e.g. contextual ads)
Yes. Election advertisers can target people based on contextual information, including ad placements, topics, keywords against sites, apps, pages and videos.

Demographics
Yes. Election advertisers can target by age range and gender. However, non-election advertisers can target more detailed demographic data, such as marital status, homeowners, and ethnic affinity.

Location
Yes

Interests & Behaviors (e.g. TV viewing data)
No, but non-election advertisers can use this targeting tactic. Advertisers target people browsing websites, using apps, or watching videos.

Custom audiences (e.g. advertiser uploads 1st party data)
No, but non-election advertisers can use this targeting tactic. Google runs a program called Customer Match that allows advertisers to upload customer data and match it to existing Google users.

Audience/Customer Matching (e.g. platform matches 3rd party data to existing customers)
No, but non-election advertisers can use this targeting tactic. Google runs a program called Customer Match that allows advertisers to upload data and match it to existing YouTube/Google users. Advertisers are prohibited from targeting based on sensitive data like race and ethnicity, political affiliation, religion, marital status, healthcare, and sexual orientation.

Lookalike/Similar audiences (e.g. platform finds new, "similar" audience segments)
No, but non-election advertisers can use this targeting tactic. Google runs a program called Similar Audiences that allows advertisers to upload customer data and then use it to target "similar" audience segments.

Behavioral segments (e.g. inferred characteristics)
No, but non-political advertisers can use this targeting tactic. Audiences may include affinity categories like "avid marathon runners" or life events like "recently married" or "recently had a baby."


Potential Abuse

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Partial grade: B

Google seems to take a relatively mature approach. Its policies around political ad vetting and ad spend disclosures are strong compared to other streaming platforms. However, the platform defines political "election ads" narrowly, which means that these rules do not apply to other kinds of advertising.

Does it have a self-service platform?
Yes. Google has a self-serve platform called Google Ads, which is where advertisers set up, run and manage ads on YouTube TV.


Does the platform allow for negative targeting or blacklisting?
Yes, Google allows advertisers to select negative keywords.

What steps is the platform taking to prevent abuse?
Google has strict policies for political advertisers on their platform, including an official verification process and a ban on certain types of targeting, which helps curb abuse. In addition, Google's transparency library can be useful for researchers monitoring platform abuse or patterns of discrimination.


User Control

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Partial grade: B

Google does give users broad information about how they are being targeted and it does allow them to delete their data. However, people cannot opt out of political ads.

Can users opt out of political ads?
No, but Google allows users to block ads from a particular advertiser.

Can users get access to information about how they are being targeted?
Somewhat. Google allows users to see what general ad categories it has assigned them.

Can users request deletion of their data?
Yes, Google allows users to delete their data and activity.

This is part of a broader movement for a healthy internet. See more.