Google claims no instances of foreign interference campaigns targeting Australia

While conceding that foreign interference campaigns on its platforms targeting other jurisdictions have made their way to Australia, Google said none pursued the country specifically.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor
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Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Representatives from Google have told an Australian Parliamentary committee looking into foreign interference that the country has not been the target of coordinated influence campaigns.

"We've not seen the sort of foreign coordinated foreign influence campaigns targeted at Australia that we have with other jurisdictions, including the United States," Google director of law enforcement and information security Richard Salgado said.

"Some of the disinformation campaigns that originate outside Australia, even if not targeting Australia, may affect Australia as collateral ... but not as a target of the campaign.

"We have found no instances of foreign coordinated influence campaigns targeting Australia."

While acknowledging campaigns that reach Australia do exist, he reiterated they have not specifically targeted Australia.

"Some of these campaigns are broad enough that the disinformation could be, sort of, divisive in any jurisdiction in which it is consumed, even if it's not targeting that jurisdiction," Salgado told the Select Committee on Foreign Interference Through Social Media.

"Google services, YouTube in particular, which is where we have seen most of these kinds of campaigns run, isn't really very well designed for the purpose of targeting groups to create the division that some of the other platforms have suffered, so it isn't actually all that surprising that we haven't seen this on our services."

Appearing alongside Salgado on Friday was Google Australia and New Zealand director of government affairs and public policy Lucinda Longcroft, who told the committee her organisation has been in close contact with the Australian government as it looks to prevent disinformation from emerging leading up the next federal election.

Additionally, the pair said that Google undertakes a "constant tuning" of the artificial intelligence and machine learning tech used. It said it also constantly adjusts policies and strategies to avoid moments of surprise, where Google could find itself unable to handle a shift in attacker strategy or shift in volume of attack.

No money made from your GPay transactions

Appearing earlier in the week before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Corporations and Financial Services, Google VP of product membership and partnerships Diana Layfield said her company does not monetise data from Google Pay in Australia.

"I suppose you could argue that there are non-transaction data aspects -- so people's personal profile information," she added.

"If you sign up for an app, you have to have a Google account. So, by and large, we would have that personal profile information; we may have slightly more generalised data about a user from their signing up for Google Pay, but we do not monetise transaction data or payments data from within the app in Australia."

The committee questioned Layfield's claims, citing remarks from the Reserve Bank of Australia, as one example, that because Google's business model is about collecting data not transaction fees, it does not charge for Google Pay.

"One narrow version of 'monetise' is that you take the transaction data and sell it. You say you don't do that. But another way of understanding it may be that that transaction data goes into the general pool of understanding the customer and their preferences, being able to give them a psychographic profile and monetising that profile, which is a well-known aspect of your business model," Labor MP Julian Hill asked.

"I buy a pair of shoes online, you're not going to tell anyone else about the shoes that I buy, but it may go into my profile that you then may monetise elsewhere."

Layfield said that while that would be true for Google's other products, that it was not the case for Google Pay.

"In the case of Google Pay, if you were to make a payments transaction and you were to buy a pair of shoes, that transaction data that might give us that information does not leave the Google Pay environment. We don't use transaction data for ads, for example," she explained.

"Our ads monetisation, which is, as you say, our primary monetisation route, does not receive that data from Google Pay."

She said the transaction data, such as address, name, and profile data, is used both for fraud purposes and for the purposes of updating a user's overall Google account.


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