Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner of Virginia wrote to Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen questioning the Department’s failure to implement appropriate sanctions enforcement.
Major technology firms such as Alphabet and Meta repeatedly flout U.S. sanctions rules through provision of digital advertising services. Warner’s letter highlighted reports that tech companies continue to provide adtech services to sanctioned companies with deep ties to our foreign adversaries, including Russia and Iran.
Warner is Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and former technology entrepreneur.
“[P]ublic reports in November 2023 indicated that Google served ads – and provided publisher monetization and search solutions – to a range of sanctioned Iranian and Russian companies,” Warner wrote. “Even if, as Google has claimed, these relationships did not result in ad payments to sanctioned entities, Google’s provision of web services to these sanctioned companies suggests a troubling inattention to compliance, particularly given the company’s long track record of ignoring fraud within the online ad ecosystem and of accusations of skirting U.S. sanctions laws.”
Warner outlined the negative impact that such transactions have on U.S. national security and foreign policy interests, and the need for the Treasury Department to enforce the sanctions in place.
“[R]eports suggest that Meta (parent of Facebook) flaunts U.S. sanctions rules, with recent reporting suggesting that the sanctioned Russian oligarch, Ilan Shor, has continued to use Facebook advertising for malign influence activity targeting Moldovan elections,” Warner wrote. “My staff first inquired of the Department about apparent violations by Facebook in February 2023, when prior reports of Shor’s Facebook activity surfaced. This example is especially concerning given the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s extensive efforts to publicize the ways in which Russian influence actors exploited social media platforms like Facebook to target U.S. elections. Nearly one year later, Facebook has continued to ignore U.S. sanctions laws – reportedly running hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertisements that, on their face (and in the recorded payment information), clearly indicated connection to the sanctioned oligarch.”
As the 2024 elections ramp up in the U.S., Warner stressed the need to combat efforts of foreign malign actors to influence and subvert elections.
“This year, the world’s democracies will hold an unprecedented number of elections. In the wake of Russian efforts to influence U.S. elections in 2016, malign actors worldwide have increasingly embraced social media and online advertising tools as vectors for election influence. Given the centrality of U.S. firms to online advertising and social media markets worldwide, it is vital that the Department enforce American technology company compliance with U.S. sanctions.”