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Home / Technology / Google removes 58 accounts linked to Iran from YouTube and other websites

Google removes 58 accounts linked to Iran from YouTube and other websites



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Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California.


Claudia Cruz / CNET

Google has deleted 58 accounts with ties to Iran from the platforms, says the search giant on Thursday. Google said that the accounts were part of an "Influence Operation" aimed at spreading misinformation and disagreement among the public.

The deleted accounts include 39 channels on YouTube, owned by Google, six blogger blogs, and 1

3 accounts from their Google+ social network. YouTube channels had a total of 13,466 views in the U.S. for relevant videos. Google said that the accounts were linked to IRIB, or the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting.

"Actors involved in this type of influencing operations violate our policies, and we quickly remove such content from our services and end these player accounts." Kent Walker, Google's Senior Vice President of Global Affairs, wrote in a blog post. "In addition, we use a variety of robust methods, including IP blocking, to prevent individuals or entities in Iran from opening an advertising account."

Google said the operation appears to have been running since January 2017 at least. The search giant said that both lawmakers and law enforcement were contacted about its discovery.

The announcement is just the latest in a series of revelations from technical giants trying to ward off the abuse of foreign actors. Silicon Valley has been heavily investigated in the lead up to 2018 US mid-term elections. Technology platforms remain crucial from their role in the US presidential elections in 2016, where Russian trolls tried to interfere in the outcome and disagree among voters.

Google's disclosure comes two days after Facebook said it was removing 652 unauthorized sites, groups and accounts with ties to Russia and Iran. Twitter followed up later that day with an apparently related disclosure. It said it suspended 284 accounts tied to Iran for "coordinated manipulation."

On Monday, Microsoft said it discovered and disabled several fake websites designed to trick visitors and let a group be connected to the Russian government to hack into their computers.

Google said it worked with the cybersecurity firm FireEye – the same company that flagged disinformation campaigns on Facebook – to identify fake accounts.

The search giant also had a Thursday update on efforts to combat misinformational operations from Russia. The company removed 42 YouTube channels tied to the Internet Research Agency, the kremlin-backed troll farm involved in the campaign to disturb the 2016 election. In the 42 channels there were 58 English-language political videos, with a total of less than 1800 views in the United States.

Google also said that it has detected phishing attacks – trying to steal people's passwords and other credentials – from state-sponsored actors targeting political campaigns, journalists, activists and academics. Phishing attempts came in "last months" to people "around the world," said the company, even though it did not get more specific. Google said it sent a warning email on Monday to Gmail users who might have been targeted.

Google will have the opportunity to open up more about its information next month at Capitol Hill. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey are expected to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on September 5th to testify on election security. Walker offered to participate on behalf of Google, but has been denounced by the committee . Google did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

First published 23 August at 11:35. PT.
Update, 2:00 PT : adds that the Senate Committee has shut down Walker's offer to come forward by hearing on September 5th.

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