The world’s biggest information and marketing giant, Google, is investigating suspicious activities across its video and webmail services Youtube and Gmail after some reports suggested Russian hackers and agents may have used it to influence the US presidential election.
The Alphabet-owned internet company’s investigation follows probes by Facebook and Twitter, both of which have discovered attempts by Russian groups to buy ads on political and social issues targeted at US audiences before and after the election last year.
Congress has called all three companies to testify before investigators looking into Russian interference in last year’s election, ranging from misinformation online to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. A Google spokesperson said it was taking a “deeper look” at attempts to abuse its systems.
Google is doing its own research and working with other companies. “We have a set of strict ads policies including limits on political ad targeting and prohibitions on targeting based on race and religion,” the spokesperson said.
Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) said separately on Monday that it was looking at whether Russians bought U.S. election ads on its Bing search engine or other Microsoft-owned products and platforms. A spokeswoman for the company declined to comment further.
The revelation about Google is likely to fuel further scrutiny of the role that Silicon Valley technology giants may have unwittingly played during last year’s election. U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow’s goal was to help elect Donald Trump.
Google has uncovered less than $100,000 in ad spending potentially linked to Russian actors, the source said.
The Internet Research Agency employ hundreds of so-called “trolls” who post pro-Kremlin content, much of it fake or discredited, under the guise of phony social media accounts that posed as American or European residents, according to lawmakers and researchers.
Facebook announced last month it had unearthed $100,000 in spending by the Internet Research Agency and, under pressure from lawmakers, has pledged to be more transparent about how its ads are purchased and targeted.
Google’s review had been more robust than ones undertaken so far by Facebook or Twitter, the source said.
Russia’s ad purchases on Google were first reported by the Washington Post.
Twitter discovered 200 suspicious Russian accounts. But it was criticized by senator Mark Warner, vice-president of the Senate intelligence committee, which is investigating Russian interference in the election. He complained that Twitter piggybacked on Facebook’s research, looking only for accounts related to those flagged by the larger social network, rather than conducting a broader search for suspicious activity.