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Mozilla Study Slams Streamers For Lack Of Political Ad Transparency

Fern Siegel

Unlike linear TV, streamers don’t have to reveal how ads are targeted or who views them. That’s worrisome to many analysts and educators, because in a toxic political climate, online political ads can micro-target and misinform voters.

An estimated $7 billion is being spent on political ads, TV, social media and digital, per The Wall Street Journal. The big issue is whether viewers know an ad’s source. Far too often, transparency is nonexistent, which can create a skewed or manipulated environment.

Mozilla has released a study on how six major streamers operate in the political ad realm, rating CBS All Access, Hulu, Tubi, Sling TV, Roku and YouTubeTV on various issues, such as political ads policies, ad transparency tools, ad targeting capabilities, potential for abuse, and user control over ads.

Each was then assigned a performance grade and all — with the noted exception of YouTube TV — were found wanting.

The study’s fundamental questions concern fact-checking and vetting ads for transparency, which increases the likelihood of misinformation.

The findings:

  • All five got an F for transparency, while YouTubeTV earned a B.
  • On the potential abuse issue, Hulu, Roku and Tubi got a C; Sling TV a D; and YouTubeTV and CBS All Access a B.
  • For ad targeting, Tubi and Sling TV got a D; CBS All Access and Roku a C; Hulu and YouTubeTV a B.
  • User control was equally abysmal: Hulu a C; YouTubeTV a B, while the remaining four earned a D.
  • The final overall grads: SlingTV - F; YouTube TV - B; Roku - D; Hulu - C; Tubi - D; CBS All Access - C.

According to The Washington Post, in the aftermath of Russian interference in the 2016 election, “the U.S. government has made virtually no progress on bringing more transparency to paid political speech. The risks remain high that voters could be duped and deceived by foreign governments, U.S. candidates and advocacy groups — particularly online, where major regulatory gaps exist.”

Campaign finance experts have a heightened concern as more Americans cord-cut or switch from broadcast-cable to streamers. Hulu, which has 30 million+ subscribers, runs so many political ads that users are complaining on company forums.