with Tonya Riley

Democrats say Facebook and Google’s decision to extend their ban on political ads could hurt their prospects in the upcoming runoff elections for two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia. 

The balance of power in Congress hinges on the races, and absentee ballots are scheduled to go out as early as next week. Yet Facebook and Google are signaling it could be several weeks before they again allow ads about political or social issues, extending limitations that took effect when the polls closed on Election Day designed to prevent the spread of disinformation about the election results. 

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's executive director Scott Fairchild criticized the decisions, saying the bans "amount to unacceptable voter suppression." 

Tech companies seeking to quash election disinformation are in a bind. 

On the one hand, ads can help candidates on both sides get information to potential voters. Fairchild warned in a statement that the move could actively harm efforts to inform voters about the runoffs. He called for an exemption for ads in Georgia over the next two months. 

But companies are also scrambling to extend what were meant to be temporary changes amid a chaotic and uncertain political environment in which President Trump is refusing to concede and makes baseless claims of election fraud. It's unclear if the companies can sustain the pace of enforcement they have had in the last week, my colleague Elizabeth Dwoskin reports. 

Facebook and Google initially indicated the ad bans would last about a week, but disinformation researchers have warned they should not back down as Trump and his allies continue to use social media to sow doubt in the election process. Trump is currently raising money for a legal fund to challenge the election process in several states via emails, organic social media posts and text messages. 

Facebook told advertisers in an email obtained by The Technology 202 that they could expect the temporary pause to last about a month, though it’s possible ads could resume sooner. Google has been less specific about its plans, but the Wall Street Journal’s Emily Glazer reports that the company told some advertisers it is unlikely to lift the ban in November or December. 

“While multiple sources have projected a presidential winner, we still believe it’s important to help prevent confusion or abuse on our platform,” Facebook told advertisers in the email. 

Democrats warn that may be too long given some of the key deadlines in the race. 

The elections will be held on Jan. 5, but the pandemic may force many Georgia residents to explore early voting options. Voters must register by Dec. 7, and early in-person voting begins Dec. 14. 

Ammar Moussa, the deputy communications director for Jon Osoff’s Democratic Senate campaign, warned an extended ban could interfere with efforts to encourage voters to request absentee ballots and register to vote. 

Moussa called on the companies to exempt Georgia Senate candidates from the ban and accused Facebook and Google of “putting their fingers on the scale” and "ignoring the rampant disinformation on their platforms and engaging in their own version of voter suppression.” 

Other Democratic advertising strategists warned that the blanket ban on ads could hinder Democrats because they may have less name-recognition than the Republican candidates, who are current senators. They particularly stressed that this could hurt the party’s ability to reach Black voters in a critical election. 

“We call on these companies to quit hindering the ability of Democrats to reach voters in these critical runoff races,” said Mark Jablonowski, managing partner and chief technology officer at DSPolitical, in a statement. “Rather than pursuing a headline-grabbing but ill-conceived strategy of blanket ad bans from political campaigns, these companies should focus their considerable resources on fighting the spread of demonstrably false organic content and the proliferation of white nationalism on their platforms.”

Republicans generally have been very critical of the limitations that tech companies have adopted in recent weeks, including limitations on political ads. A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee told the Journal that “the lack of transparency on when ads will resume and the timing of it could not be worse.” A political ad consultant working for one of the Republican campaigns in Georgia also said the bans are frustrating but will also push campaigns to use other channels, like targeting audiences through online publishers.  

Facebook said it has technical limitations to making an exception for the Georgia races.

Rob Leathern,  a Facebook ads executive, said the company does not have the “technical ability in the short term to enable political ads by state or by advertiser.” He also said the company remains committed to giving advertisers equal access to its tools and services. 

From his Twitter:

He also said the company would temporarily extend a number of other election-related products as the election result “moves towards certification next month.” The company will continue to label candidates’ posts with a box that says Biden is the projected winner in the United States. 

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Biden's newly-selected chief of staff has ties to the tech world.

Biden named Ronald A. Klain, a longtime Democratic operative, as his chief of staff, Michael Scherer reported. Klain, who has more than 30 years of experience in Washington politics, left politics in 2011 to join Revolution Ventures, the venture firm founded by former AOL chief executive and founder Steven Case. Klain is the firm's executive vice president.

Klain was also chair of the board of Democratic startup incubator Higher Ground Labs and has ties with Democratic donor and LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, as Recode's Teddy Schleifer noted.

As Biden's vice-presidential chief of staff, Klain oversaw a nearly $800 billion stimulus package and later worked on the administration's response to the Ebola outbreak.

Case congratulated Klain in a now-deleted tweet.

Biden's plans for TikTok remain unclear.

TikTok is betting on a ruling from a federal judge to grant it a 30-day extension for today's Treasury Department deadline to sell its U.S. assets, Rachel Lerman and Jeanne Whalen report.

An injunction on Trump's original ban of the app means that the company isn't at risk of shutting down today. But as its legal battle with the administration drags on, the popular video app may be facing new uncertainties under President-elect Joe Biden.

A Biden representative said the team had nothing to share in regard to its plans for TikTok, Tonya reports. TikTok declined to comment on if the company had spoken with the Biden team about the ban.

The U.S. government has argued the app is a national security threat because the Chinese government could require its Chinese parent company ByteDance to turn over the data it collects on U.S. customers. The Treasury Department demanded that TikTok's Chinese parent company divest from the app following the review. 

But TikTok claims that the Treasury Department hasn't given it the feedback it needs. The company says it's still working on a deal that would bring on Oracle and Walmart as investors. The Treasury Department refuted TikTok's claims and expressed interest in working out a deal.

Google Photos will end free, unlimited storage. 

The switch comes five years after the company first introduced unlimited free photo backups, Dieter Bohn at The Verge reports. Only photos uploaded after June 1 will count toward the new 15GB cap free service.  

Google cited the explosive growth of the service as one of the reasons it's now going to charge customers.

“This change also allows us to keep pace with the growing demand for storage,” Shimrit Ben-Yair, vice president for Google Photos wrote in a blog post. “And, as always, we uphold our commitment to not use information in Google Photos for advertising purposes.  

Last month, Alphabet said it would begin breaking out income for its cloud business, adding to incentives to increase the value of its Google One product. Google Cloud trails behind rivals Amazon and Microsoft, but it has been a growing revenue stream for the company. (Amazon chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Post.)

Still, the change was met with swift criticism. Columnist Geoffrey A. Fowler called the move a “classic bait-and-switch.”

Other critics tied that strategy back to concerns about Google's potentially anticompetitive behavior. Tech journalist Casey Newton:

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The Wall Street Journal claimed that some workers are returning to their best work clothes…the Internet was skeptical.

Daybook

  • The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation will hold a virtual briefing "Is the United States Tax System Favoring Excessive Automation?" today at 9 a.m.
  • The Bipartisan Policy Center will hold an event on "What's Next for Telehealth: Sustaining and Expanding Access After COVID-19" Friday at noon.

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