A report released Monday suggests that the world’s top Internet companies are spending billions of dollars on ads on the websites of Canadian broadcasters, but that they may be doing so without telling Canadians the truth.
The report, called the Canadian Internet Alliance’s Truth-in-advertising Challenge, details the way in which Internet giants like Facebook and Google are using the advertising business to help them create their own “truth-inadvertising” ads.
In Canada, a Canadian broadcaster called Rogers has been selling ads that feature photos of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but the ads are not accurate representations of the Canadian government’s position on the Keystone XL pipeline.
A Rogers ad for a Canadian company that makes solar panels reads, “Canada has the best solar panels in the world.
The cost of solar panels is about 10 per cent of what it would be if you bought a new home.”
A Facebook ad for an online dating service is a picture of a man and a woman sitting in a car.
“There are so many different types of dating services.
You could go to a restaurant, you could go on a dating app and that would work just as well.
There are dating apps that do everything that Facebook does, and the dating apps of Canada are not so good,” said the report’s executive director, Mike Crawley.
The National Post asked Canada’s advertising watchdog, the Canada Council of Advertising Standards, to investigate.
The council said it will provide its findings and recommendations to the Canadian Advertising Standards Authority and CBC News.
The Canada Council for Advertising Standards said it had reviewed data from Google and Facebook and found that “all of the websites used in the ads were located in Canada” and that the advertising had been paid for by the companies themselves.
Google, for example, has paid more than $1 million to the advertising company to run ads on Canadian sites.
The Canadian advertising watchdog’s report says that amount includes $400,000 to advertise on CBC News Canada, $600,000 for advertising on Facebook and $200,000 on Facebook ads on CBC Canada.
Facebook also has paid to advertise in Canada, including $300,000 in ads that aired on CBC Radio’s flagship show Metro Morning.
The watchdog said that was consistent with a pattern of similar “advertising” practices across Google and other advertising platforms, but did not detail how the money had been spent.CBC News asked the companies if they were doing enough to ensure Canadians are aware of their advertising practices and the advertising they are running.
Facebook responded with a statement that said it is “committed to working with governments, public interest groups and other stakeholders to ensure the accuracy of our advertising and to ensure advertisers and the public are fully informed of their choices and the benefits they bring.”
Google did not respond to a request for comment.
Google has been under fire in recent years for its “pay to play” advertising model, which allows the companies to charge publishers for access to users’ information without paying a fee.CBC’s Marketplace program has documented similar practices by Google, Facebook and other companies.CBC said the challenge to advertisers was prompted by the growing public outcry over online privacy breaches, including data breaches that exposed the personal information of millions of Canadians.
“As we have seen with many other examples of the abuse of power that occurs online, the information that is disclosed and the costs that are incurred by people and governments is not in the best interest of the public or the companies that are paying for that information,” the report said.
The challenge is the latest in a series of efforts by Canadians to shine a light on online advertising practices.
The government recently created a Privacy Commissioner’s Office and a Competition Bureau, to regulate advertising practices, and Canada’s largest online retailers have been accused of engaging in online scams and selling stolen goods.
The issue of privacy has been on the front burner in Canada since the federal government approved the Internet Advertising Bureau in 2014, a move that critics say has increased the number of companies selling online ads.CBC has been investigating similar advertising practices in Canada for more than a decade, but has only recently become concerned about the extent of it.
“We know that online advertising is a very big problem and the amount of money that is being spent on it is going to be a big part of the solution,” CBC News political editor Susan Ormiston said.