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Washington state sues Google and Facebook over political ad disclosures

[JURIST] Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson [official website] filed lawsuits on Monday against Google and Facebook [complaints, PDF] for failing to disclose information about who purchased political ads that were displayed on their platforms.

Both companies are accused of violating RCW 72.17A, which requires that "political campaign and lobbying contributions and expenditures be fully disclosed to the public and that secrecy is to be avoided." Both companies are accused of negligently and/or intentionally "fail[ing] to maintain documents and books of account specifying required information for political advertising sponsored in Washington state elections from 2013 to 2018" and for "fail[ing] to make such documents and books of account open for public inspection."

Both lawsuits cite attempts of Eli Sanders, Associate Editor of the biweekly Seattle newspaper The Stranger, to obtain information related to political advertising for the August 1, 2017, primary election and November 7, 2017, general election in Seattle.

The attorney general is seeking civil penalties against the companies and all costs associated with the investigation and trial. He is also seeking injunctive relief.

Both Facebook and Google have previously been targets of lawsuits related to their advertisement practices. In March 2017 Facebook settled [JURIST report] a class action lawsuit for violating privacy laws due to Facebook practices associated with targeted advertising. Also in March 2017 a federal judge rejected [JURIST report] a settlement with Google in a lawsuit related to Google's practice of scanning emails for the purposes of targeted advertising.

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