Google shared user data with a Russian ad company, RuTarget, even after the firm was sanctioned in April as part of the US government's response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February.The US Department of the Treasury said that RuTarget's parent company, Sberbank, is "the largest financial institution in Russia and is majority-owned by the Government of the Russian Federation." Those factors are said to make Sberbank "uniquely important to the Russian Federation economy."Google should have stopped sharing data with RuTarget after those sanctions were announced. But according to ProPublica and Adalytics—a self-described "crowd sourced social experiment" that gathers information about the ads shown to users of its browser extension—that didn't happen.ProPublica reports that Google continued to share data with RuTarget after the sanctions were issued. That data could include "such critical information as unique mobile phone IDs, IP addresses, location information and details about users’ interests and online activity" on Ukrainian websites."Google is committed to complying with all applicable sanctions and trade compliance laws," Google spokesperson Michael Aciman said in a statement to PCMag. "We've reviewed the entities in question and have taken appropriate enforcement action beyond the measures we took earlier this year to block them from directly using Google advertising products."Aciman said Google now prevents RuTarget from using techniques like cookie matching—which "allows you to match information in a cookie, such as an ID assigned to a user that browsed your website, with a corresponding bidder-specific Google User ID"—to bypass its restrictions.The company is also blocking RuTarget from using non-sanctioned organizations in Russia to purchase ads from Google. These additional precautions should ostensibly make it more difficult for RuTarget and other sanctioned companies from accessing Google's vast trove of data.But the incident demonstrates just how little many people know about Google's ad practices—and how companies can abuse them to maintain access to potentially sensitive information."The average consumer reading this research may not care for the technical intricacies of user ID syncing between ad tech platforms," Adalytics says in its report. "However, many readers may be surprised to learn that when they previously visited some of their favorite news or sports sites, they were asked if their data can be shared with a Russian company that is under sanctions."
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