In late June, Google shared user data, including IP addresses, geographic locations and details about users’ identities, interests and search activity, with an ad company owned by Russia’s largest state-owned bank, according to a shared report. with ProPublica.
The company, RuTarget, is based in Moscow and helps mediate the sale of digital advertising to brands and agencies. In February, the same day Russian forces invaded Ukraine, RuTarget was added to a list of entities sanctioned by the US Treasury Department, banning US entities from doing business with the company.
RuTarget and its parent company, the Russian-controlled financial company Sberbank, were also hit by more aggressive full-blocking sanctions by the US Treasury Department in April.
But according to a report from digital analytics firm Adalytics, cited by ProPublica, after the first sanction in February, there were at least 700 cases where Google shared website and mobile app browsing data from users around the world with RuTarget. also in Ukraine, where war has been raging for four months. Such data could be used by Russian militaries and intelligence services to track people, spy on targets or triangulate battle zones, experts say.
The sharing happened even after multiple US lawmakers called on big tech companies like Google to monitor their advertising activities for compliance with economic sanctions and warned of the national security risks posed by data sharing. In a bipartisan letter sent last year to the likes of Google, Twitter, AT&T and Verizon, six senators, including Ron Wyden, Kirsten Gillibrand, Mark Warner and Elizabeth Warren, wrote that “this information would be a gold mine for foreign intelligence agencies that would to inform and incentivize hacking, blackmail and influence campaigns.”
A Google spokesperson told the publication that in March RuTarget had been banned from buying Google ad products but was still receiving user data from the Silicon Valley tech giant. According to ProPublica, Google stopped sharing the data with RuTarget on June 23, after the publication reached out to inquire about the report. The company also said it would take action to prevent RuTarget from buying Google ads through unsanctioned third parties in Russia.
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