In a statement, the Campaign for Accountability said it had posed as the well-known Russian troll site, Internet Research Agency and "bought ads using similar language and the same images that the [group] deployed during its 2016 influence campaign. The ads ran on major US media websites and their YouTube channels".
CfA executive director Daniel Stevens said: "The ease with which CfA was able to replicate the 2016 Russian ad campaign shows Google has failed to keep its promise to prevent foreign actors from interfering in our elections. Google is more interested in pocketing roubles than protecting American Democracy.”
Google has come under fire in recent years over allowing racist, sexist and homophobic advertisements on its YouTube video channel.
UPDATE: One day after we released our report on Google’s failure to crack down on Russian trolls, you can *still* set up a Google AdWords account in the name of the Internet Research Agency. Simply put in its tax ID and Google populates the rest. @MarkWarner @SenatorBurr— Google Transparency (@GTP_updates) September 5, 2018
Last month, the company's senior vice-president of Global Affairs, Kent Walker, said: "We’ve invested in robust systems to detect phishing and hacking attempts, identify influence operations launched by foreign governments, and protect political campaigns from digital attacks through our Protect Your Election program."
But CfA said all this did not prevent it from replicating the Internet Research Agency's campaign.
"CfA was able to set up a Russian Google AdWords account using a burner phone from Panama and the contact information of the [agency]," it said
The non-profit group said it used a Russian name and email address to set up the account, paid for the ads through the Russian payment service Yandex, and employed a virtual private network to ensure any IP address logged by Google would appear to be from St Petersburg. The Kremlin-linked group, which has been indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for allegedly interfering in the 2016 election, is based in St Petersburg.
The ads that were posted by CfA were also similar to those that had been used by the Internet Research Agency, using language and imagery utilised by Russian trolls.
"Google also approved display ads, which CfA purchased with Russian roubles, directing US Internet users to websites such as BlackMattersUS.com and USAReally.com, which were created and run by the Russian trolls. CfA’s ads ran on a wide range of websites and YouTube channels, including those of CNN, CBS This Morning, The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, AnnCoulter.com and Britain’s Daily Mail."
Stevens added, “With the 2018 campaign underway, Google clearly isn’t doing enough to protect our public discourse from malicious advertising campaigns. Congress needs to investigate Google’s conduct to ensure Google is taking this threat seriously.”
Two years ago, the American website Fortune disclosed that Oracle, a major foe of Google, was one of the sources of CfA's funds.
Google and Oracle have been locked in a court case over Google's use of APIs from Java in its Android mobile operating system. Last month, the case, which has been running since 2010, took a turn in Oracle's favour.