Google defended itself against accusations that they had given President Obama special access to an experimental ad product on Tuesday. Having spotted an Obama ad on RealClearPolitics apparently built on technology that targeted specific email addresses, a staffer at the National Republican Senatorial Committee contacted a Google sales representative about the program, reports Politico. "This is a pre-alpha product that is being released to a select few clients," replied saleswoman Sirene Abou-Chakra. "I'd be happy to get you into the beta if you're interested."
The implication of those two sentences, of couse, is that the Obama campaign got special access to innovative hyper-targeted ad technology from one of the nation's largest advertising networks. Google's ad network somehow falls under the jurisdiction by chairman Eric Schmidt, who campaigned with Obama in 2008 and serves on the President's Council of Advisers on Science and Technology. When accused of playing favorites--either by the NRSC or Politico, the report is unclear--Google wrote off the exclusivity language in Abou-Chakra's original email as inaccurate. From Politico:
But Google spokesman Jake Parrilo denied strenuously that the Obama campaign had been granted special access to the pilot program, and chalked the email up to inaccurate “puffery” by the sales representative. The ad that appeared on RealClearPolitics, he said, was not a Google ad at all.
“This is an experiment and while we generally do not comment on those experiments we can tell you that we have not sold a single CPL [cost-per-lead] ad unit to any political candidates or committees,” said Parrillo.
To unpack some some terms, "pre-alpha" is most certainly an experimental stage for a technology product, a stage often restricted to developers who can test for bugs. "Beta" usually implies a fairly private but fairly wide roll-out, though the qualifier means that the product is not completely finished. Google uses these terms pretty broadly. (As a point of reference, Google didn't take the beta tag off of Gmail until 2009, five years, after the first group of users were invited to test it.) This all means that, if that saleswoman wasn't lying, access to a pre-alpha technology that offered access to users' email addresses would be a boon to a political campaign. After all, some argue that Obama won in 2008 because of his web presence.