Honest Ads Act wants tech companies to reveal who buys political ads

Russian-linked online advertisements have snowballed into a new bill called the Honest Ads Act that would force tech companies like Google and Facebook to disclose when political advertisements are bought on their platforms. This disclosure bill was drafted by Democrats Amy Klobuchar and Mark Warner; soon after Republican Sen. John McCain signed onto it. The bill aims to increase transparency about who is funding online political advertisements and, potentially, revealing what kind of motives may lie behind them.

The issue started weeks ago when Facebook revealed that it had discovered advertisements bought by a Russia-linked entity during the 2016 presidential election. Following Facebook's disclosure of the ads, Twitter found some accounts that were linked to them, plus others that weren't linked. Google soon followed, highlighting the very troublesome issue of foreign meddling in domestic political affairs.

Citizens and politicians alike have called on tech companies to exercise a greater degree of responsibility in keeping these types of ads off their sites, and the newly presented legislation, the Honest Ads Act, aims to force their hand on the matter. Under it, tech companies like the ones above would be required to disclose the political online ads its sells, and that disclosure will include who purchases the advertisements.

It was expected that the bill would be officially introduced today and that's exactly what just happened. The bipartisan bill will, should it pass, require all digital platforms to federally disclose who buys political ads on each platform's website or app, the goal being to avoid further foreign meddling in US elections and fueling the flames around issues like racial tensions.

Such legislation would bring tech companies' platforms up to the same level as traditional advertising platforms — that is, television, newspapers, and terrestrial radio. Part of the bill requires tech companies to take 'reasonable efforts' to ensure foreign states don't buy political ads on their platforms; as well, these companies would be required to maintain a public record of how well the ad performs, which audience it was targeted at, and a copy of the ad itself.