November 23, 2019

Open Letter to Google

Read the open letter we co-signed with nearly 100 leading Democratic digital strategists. Original Link via Blue Digital Exchange

Yesterday Google announced a slew of changes to their political advertising policies. They framed these changes as a way to protect elections from foreign interference and users from disinformation. At every turn, however, the changes Google has made will disadvantage Democrats and grassroots organizations and prevent voters from receiving the information they are actually interested in.

The truth is, the bulk of dangerous disinformation on Google is spread organically — by YouTube/Google’s own auto-play algorithm which serves up dangerous content about white nationalism, anti-vaccination propaganda, or even flat-earth conspiracy theories and not by political advertisers using targeted ads. These changes will do nothing to stem the tide of disinformation that wreaked havoc on our electoral system in 2016.

At the heart of Google’s changes are restrictions on the tools political advertisers can use to target their ads to specific audiences. These tools enable advertisers to find the audiences most likely to be interested in their product — whether it is a new TV on sale for Black Friday at your favorite retailer or a candidate who is speaking to issues you care deeply about.

While these changes may give Google the appearance of trying to do no harm, they instead create an environment that advantages only the biggest advertisers, with the most dollars. The beauty of digital advertising is that it allows advertisers to spend their dollars efficiently — targeting only the people who are most likely to be interested in their product, cause, or campaign.

Google chose to restrict certain targeting tools from being used by political advertisers, including the very common technique of “retargeting” — which allows an advertiser to show you an ad after you’ve left their website.

For political advertisers, especially smaller grassroots organizations, this type of targeting is especially important as they try to break through a saturated media environment. For example, you might land on a local candidate’s website and watch a video that introduces their story. That candidate can use retargeting to bring you back to their website to learn more about the issues they care about, ask you to attend a town hall in your community, or register to vote in a local election. Smaller organizations need the efficiency of being able to show ads only to people who are most likely to care about them and engage with them.

Without this ability, this same local candidate is forced to advertise to large swaths of people, in the hope that they catch your eye again, using precious campaign contributions in a fishing expedition when they should be organizing people who have already shown interest in their campaign.

Deep-pocketed corporations, organizations and even large campaigns can afford to waste those additional dollars, but small organizations, upstart candidates, and those who are trying to target specific voters are going to pay a steep price for, and be put at a particular disadvantage by, these changes.

Google also decided to restrict political advertisers from using the voter file to target ads. These data, which are publicly available and simply indicate which individuals are registered to vote and which aren’t, are central to effective political advertising. These data allow campaigns to focus their ad dollars on getting unregistered voters to register so they can participate in the electoral process and help them spend money efficiently to reach registered voters as Election Day approaches.

Without this filter, Democratic organizations and campaigns are at a severe disadvantage. While, the Republican base is dominated by older, white, non-urban voters — people who can still easily be reached with the targeting Google didn’t touch: age, gender, and geography — not to mention these older voters are more likely to watch TV. In contrast, Democratic voters and supporters are more diverse, more likely to be cord-cutters, mobile phone users, and generally those who are harder to reach with traditional advertising methods.

Without using voter registration files, a Republican campaign can advertise to this homogenous group of people and expect to engage a majority of registered voters. In contrast, a Democratic campaign advertising to young, urban, people of color might have to spend a lot more because they are trying to reach a fraction of users within that group who are actually eligible to vote. The end result being, to reach the same number of potential voters using this system, Democrats will have to spend considerably more dollars advertising.

What Google has done is a PR stunt at best, and a dangerous attempt to manipulate their main competition, at worst. It advantages big money interests and candidates with deep pockets at the expense of grassroots and people-powered movements who rely on their tools to build those movements. Every voter should be deeply concerned about where these sweeping changes will lead.

Google must take sincere action to stem the dangerous tide of organic disinformation that rampantly populates its platforms and poisons our political discourse, rather than papering over the real problem with a dubious advertising policy.

P.S. If you would like to be added as a signatory, please email [email protected], thanks!


Tim Lim, Partner, NEWCO Strategies

Josh Koster, Managing Partner, Chong + Koster

Tracy Russo, President, Russo Strategies

Kenneth Pennington, Partner, Middle Seat Digital

Hector Sigala, Partner, Middle Seat Digital

Liz Bennett, Director of Advertising, Middle Seat Digital

Crystal Stanford, Senior Digital Advertising Strategist, Middle Seat Digital

Deb Mayo, Digital Advertising Strategist, Middle Seat Digital

Gregory Berlin, Partner, Mothership Strategies

Jake Lipsett, Partner, Mothership Strategies

Charles Starnes, Partner, Mothership Strategies

William Block, Principal, Mothership Strategies

Andy Amsler, Principal, Narrative

Mary Bell, Director of Business Development, Narrative

Sam Nitz, President, Asgard Strategies & Analytics

Madeline V. Twomey, President, Rufus and Mane

Mark Jablonowski, Managing Partner, DSPolitical

Eloise Lepesqueur, Chief Operating Officer, DSPolitical

Erik Brydges, Senior Vice President of Advertising Technology, DSPolitical

Ryan Fanning, Vice President, DSPolitical

Eli Kaplan, Partner, Rising Tide Interactive

Stephanie Grasmick, Partner, Rising Tide Interactive

Annie Levene, Partner, Rising Tide Interactive

Kelsey McLaughlin, Vice President of Media, Rising Tide Interactive

Brian Krebs, Vice President of Client Strategy, Rising Tide Interactive

Jake Sticka, Vice President of Client Strategy, Rising Tide Interactive

Rob Flaherty, former Digital Director, Beto for America

Brad Bauman, CEO and Partner, Fireside Campaigns

Julia Rosen, Partner, Fireside Campaigns

Ryan Alexander, Partner, Fireside Campaigns

Julia Ager, President, Sapphire Strategies

Juliana Dolcimascolo, Director of Digital Advertising, Sapphire Strategies

Shereen Ahmad, Director of Digital Strategy, Sapphire Strategies

Meghan McAnespie, Digital Strategy and Training Manager, Sapphire Strategies

John Schueler, former Digital Director, John Hickenlooper for President

Laura Packard, Partner, PowerThru Consulting

Matt Compton, Director, Advocacy + Engagement, Blue State

Patrick Savoia, Deputy Director, Media, Blue State

Mike Nellis, President and Founder, Authentic Campaigns

Jonathan Barnes, Director of Digital Advertising, Authentic Campaigns

Gabriella Rizza, Director of Client Services, Authentic Campaigns

Paulina Mangubat, Senior Digital Advertising Strategist, Authentic Campaigns

Sarah Dohl, Chief Communications Officer, Indivisible

Julia Leonard, Director of Digital Fundraising, Indivisible

Yash Mori, Director of Digital Engagement, Indivisible

Andy Meyer, Partner, A|L Media

Peter Albrecht, Senior Vice President of Digital, A|L Media

Ruiyong Chen, Director of Paid Media, The Hub Project

Marie Follayttar, Director, Mainers for Accountable Leadership

Edward Erikson, President, Erikson Communication Group, Inc.

Ben Gubits, Vice President of Client Strategy, Erikson Communication Group, Inc.

Yaw Akuffo-Anoff, Digital Strategist, Erikson Communication Group, Inc.

Caitlin DeLuca, Digital Strategist, Erikson Communication Group, Inc.

Aren LeBrun, Digital Strategist, Erikson Communication Group, Inc.

Quinn Malter, Digital Strategist, Erikson Communication Group, Inc.

Roy Temple, Partner, GPS Impact

Jim Kottmeyer, Partner, GPS Impact

Mark Langgin, Partner, GPS Impact

Catherine Jones, Media Director, GPS Impact

Steve Olson, Partner, Colossal Squid Studios

Shripal Shah, Vice President, American Bridge

Caleb-Michael Files, Senior Digital Strategist, AFL-CIO

Ian Koski, Principal, Quorum Creative

Jaden Slagle, COMPETE Digital

Josh Cohen, Principal, New Heights Communications

Joe Fuld, President, The Campaign Workshop

Lizzie Kendrick, Vice President, Digital, The Campaign Workshop

Chris Mitchell, Managing Partner, Statecraft Digital

Anna Breedlove, Associate Partner, Statecraft Digital

Bryan Eastman, Associate Partner, Statecraft Digital

Seth Samuels, Founder and CEO, The Content Lab

Will Hailer, Partner, E Street Group, LLC

Marcus Robinson, Senior Advisor, E Street Group, LLC

Tom Bonier, CEO, TargetSmart

Ed Niles, Director — Digital Media, TargetSmart

Taryn Rosenkranz, Founder & CEO, New Blue Interactive

Brandt McCool, CTO, New Blue Interactive

Arielle Einstein, Director of Advertising and Media Planning, New Blue Interactive

Jackie Bateman, Senior Advisor, New Blue Interactive

Jessica Rodriguez, Senior Advisor, New Blue Interactive

Max Stahl, Senior Advisor, New Blue Interactive

Marc Ruben, Partner, M+R

Madeline Stanionis, Partner, M+R

Michael Ward, Partner, M+R

Meghan Rutherford, Vice President, M+R

Sofia Bennett, Media Director, M+R

Liz Ertner, Senior Vice President, M+R

Matt Derby, Senior Vice President, M+R

Catherine Algeri, Vice President, CCAH

Brenna Holmes, Vice President, CCAH

Chrissy Hyre, Vice President, CCAH

Ryan Thompson, Chief Digital Officer, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee