Washington Files a Lawsuit Against Facebook and Google Over Election Ads

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Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has filed two lawsuits against Facebook and Google for failing to acquire legally required information for political advertising placed on their platforms since 2013. The lawsuits allege that the two firms didn't follow state campaign finance laws that require companies to reveal details of those who purchase political ads during elections. The commercial advertisers are also required to make that information available to the public.

The lawsuits were filed after AG's office received several complaints over Facebook and Google not following through with data requests.

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

Facebook and Google sued over failure to disclose political ad spending

Washington state laws require advertisers to collect data of the sources of political advertising, which is then also expected to be made public. The AG's office said that both the tech giants have failed to respond to queries about political ads running inside the state. Both the companies were required to collect the following details:

  • The name of the candidate or measure supported or opposed
  • The dates the advertiser provided the service
  • The name and address of the person who sponsored the advertising
  • The total cost of the advertising, who paid for it (which may be different than the sponsor) and what method of payment they used

"Washington state law allows a member of the public to visit a commercial advertiser during normal business hours and see who is paying for the political advertising they run, and how much the campaign committee is spending," the Office of the Attorney General wrote. "Facebook and Google did not provide Washingtonians the same opportunity."

The AG's Office believes that the company didn't obtain or maintain the information required of campaign advertisers. Tech companies are currently under fire for not only failing to keep their users' data secure but also failing to comply with local laws and regulations. Reuters reports that a Seattle official had also earlier said that Facebook was possibly in violation of the city’s law, however, Seattle has not yet sued the company.

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