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Google suspends all ads related to Irish abortion referendum

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Google is suspending all advertising connected to Ireland’s abortion referendum as part of moves to protect “election integrity,” the company announced Wednesday.

The move came a day after Facebook banned foreign-backed ads in the Irish campaign, amid global concerns about online election meddling and the role of internet ads in swaying voters.

Google said that starting Thursday, it would no longer display ads related to the May 25 vote on whether to repeal Ireland’s constitutional ban on most abortions.

The prohibition on ads connected to the Irish vote applies to both Google and YouTube, which the company owns.

The online search leader, which is based in Mountain View, California, declined to say how much advertising revenue it was giving up because of the decision.

The role of online ads in elections is under scrutiny following revelations that Russian groups bought ads on leading services such as Google and Facebook to try to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign. Many of the ads were designed to sow confusion, anger and discord among Americans through messages on hot-button topics.

Karin von Abrams, a London-based analyst with the research firm eMarketer, said banning ads represented a short-term safeguard from potential backlash and reputational damage.

“They won’t want to forego election-related revenues in the longer term, but they do need to get their houses in order, rather than risk further troubles at this stage,” von Abrams said in an email Wednesday.

Google’s statement followed Facebook’s decision Tuesday to ban foreign advertisements around the abortion referendum, which has drawn worries about the influence of North American groups.

Both Google and Facebook are working on measures to improve transparency before November’s U.S. midterm elections, including tools to show the home country of advertisers.

Ireland bars political donations from abroad, but the law has not been applied to social media advertising. Anti-abortion groups based in the United States are among the organizations that have bought online ads in Ireland during the referendum campaign.

Irish lawmaker James Lawless, technology spokesman for the opposition Fianna Fail party, welcomed the moves by Google and Facebook, but said “they are rushed and they are coming at the 11th hour,” with just two weeks until voting day.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s an awful pity we couldn’t have done this six months ago,” said Lawless, who has introduced a bill to Ireland’s parliament that would require all online advertisers to disclose the publishers and sponsors behind ads.

Largely Catholic Ireland has Europe’s strictest restrictions on abortion, which is legal only when a woman’s life is in danger. Several thousand Irish women travel each year to get abortions in neighboring Britain.

Voters are being asked whether they want to retain the constitutional ban or repeal it and make parliament responsible for creating abortion laws.

Lawless said he had concerns about some of the online advertising from both sides in the referendum campaign.

“Some quite disingenuous ads have been going around in recent weeks targeting people who are in the middle that aren’t always from who they seem to be from,” he said.

“What we really need is legislation and we need a proper, robust thought-out approach” to the problem, he said.

AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this story.

This story has been corrected to show that vote is two weeks rather than less than two weeks away.

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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Biden to deploy FEMA, National Guard to set up Covid vaccine clinics across the U.S.

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Spc. Katherine Deskins (L) of the Nevada Army National Guard administers a Moderna COVID-19 vaccination to Clark County Fire Department Capt. Jasmine Ghazinour on the first day of Clark County’s pilot vaccination program at Cashman Center on January 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ethan Miller | Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden plans to use FEMA and the National Guard to build coronavirus vaccine clinics across the United States, according to new details of his Covid-19 vaccination plan released by his transition team on Friday.

The Biden administration will also “quickly jumpstart” efforts to make the vaccines available at local pharmacies across the U.S., which should ensure that Americans have access to doses at facilities only miles from their home, according to the plan. 

“Here’s the deal: The more people we vaccinate, the faster we do it, the sooner we can save lives and put this pandemic behind us and get back to our lives and loved ones,” Biden said at a speech in Wilmington, Delaware, Thursday night. “We won’t get out of it overnight and we can’t do it as a separated nation.”

Drug store chains and pharmacies were supposed to take on a larger role in distributing the vaccine once the government expanded access to more people. But the slower-than-expected rollout has frustrated pharmacy chains. The National Association of Chain Drug Stores called on the federal government earlier this week to allow states to send more doses directly to pharmacies as they do with hospitals and health departments. 

The group estimated that the country’s retail pharmacies could administer at least 100 million doses of vaccines each month, which would exceed the incoming administration’s promise of 100 million shots in 100 days.

The Biden administration has said current vaccination efforts are not sufficient to quickly and equitably vaccinate the vast majority of the U.S. population, adding, “We must ensure that those on the ground have what they need to get vaccinations into people’s arms.”

The pace of vaccinations in the U.S. is going much slower than officials had hoped. As of Friday at 6 a.m. ET, more than 31.1 million doses of vaccine had been distributed across the U.S., but just over 12.2 million shots have been administered, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the plan, Biden will also invoke the Defense Production Act to “maximize the manufacture of vaccine and vaccine supplies for the country.”

The incoming president’s advisors had previously hinted that he would invoke the wartime production law, which allows the president to compel companies to prioritize manufacturing for national security, to bolster vaccine production.  

The plan says the act will increase the supply of necessary equipment that could otherwise cause bottlenecks in the vaccine’s rollout if they were in shortage, including glass vials, syringes, stoppers and needles. It will also increase the capacity to package the vaccines into vials.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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