Google and Facebook are looking to make an early imprint on legislation being drafted in the House and Senate that would force them and other online networks to disclose information about the buyers of political ads.
Lobbyists from the Silicon Valley behemoths have met with the staffs of Sens. Mark Warner and Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Derek Kilmer, all of whom are drawing up bills that would impose new regulations on the industry, according to Democratic aides and company representatives. The Senate bill is expected to be formally introduced next week. It is not clear when the House legislation, which has not been previously reported, will be introduced.
Facebook has talked with those working on the bill, a company source confirmed, characterizing Facebook as willing to continue discussing it as the process moves along. A spokesperson for Google declined to comment.
The companies are keen to show steps they’ve taken to police themselves when it comes to monitoring and disclosing the ads on their sites, efforts that could be used to fend off heavy-handed regulation as investigations into Russian interference in the election bring unprecedented scrutiny on their businesses. This week, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg flew to D.C. for a whirlwind of meetings with lawmakers to contain the fallout.
A Democratic Senate aide said Facebook has tried to make Hill staff well aware of efforts it’s making on its own toward ad transparency and self-regulation — measures put in place as news of 3,000 Russia-linked ads was disclosed to congressional investigators — but that the company is not surprised a bill is in the works.
“This is an important issue that deserves attention, and we are engaging with legislators and other stakeholders on finding a solution,” said Noah Theran, a spokesman for the Internet Association, whose members include Google, Facebook, Snap and Twitter.
The Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group with more than 600 members, has also been meeting with lawmakers. Dave Grimaldi, IAB’s executive vice president for public policy, said self-regulation can be “vastly more meaningful and more powerful” than legislation, adding that the online advertising industry has a track record of self-imposed transparency.
Nevertheless, Grimaldi said it is important for IAB to hear lawmakers’ concerns and help ensure proposed legislation does not negatively affect smaller advertising platforms. “Until we figure out exactly what the words on the page will be, we remain ready and eager to help,” he said.