Europe offers tepid set of political ads transparency rules

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It has been almost a year since the EU executive announced that it would propose rules for the transparency of political advertisements in response to concerns about online microtargeting and big data technologies mincing democratic integrity and accountability. Is.

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Today it has come up with its proposal. But to be honest, I don’t think the wait was worth it.

of commission public relation Claims that the proposal would introduce “tighter conditions for targeting and amplifying political advertising” using digital tools – which it described as a ban on targeting and amplification that are “sensitive such as ethnic origin, religious belief or sexual orientation”. uses or infers “personal data”. ,


However, the claimed ‘ban’ does not apply when “explicit consent” is obtained from the person whose sensitive data is to be used with promotions to better target them – and online ‘consent for ad targeting’ ‘ There is already a total waste of non-compliance in the area.

It is therefore not clear why the Commission believes that politically vested interests influencing elections are going to play with a confidentiality manual. There are almost no online advertisers currently active in this sector, even those trying to persuade people to buy useless plastic trinkets or ‘detox’ teas.

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one in Q&A: Giving further details on the proposal, the commission lists a set of requirements it says anyone using political targeting and amplification will need to comply with, including an internal policy on the use of such technologies. ; maintaining records of the targeting and use of personal data; And recording the source of said personal data – so at best it seems, expects the burden of the need to create and maintain a plausible paper trail on campaigners.

Because it is also allowing a further carving to allow political targeting – writing: “Targeting is also permitted in the context of legitimate activities of foundations, associations or non-profit bodies with a political, philosophical, religious or business association.” The goal of the union, when it targets its own members.”

It’s incredibly vague. A “foundation” or “association” with a political “objective” sounds as though one might establish a campaign group or vested interest – that is, to pursue the “legitimate” activity of (practically?) For.

In short, the scope for loopholes for political micro-targeting – including the spread of propaganda – is massive.

In scope, the commission says it wants the ensuing rules to apply to “advertisements for or on behalf of a political actor” as well as “so-called” issue-based ads – aka politically charged issues. Voters who sway can be a powerful proxy – which it notes are “liable to influence the outcome of an election or referendum, a legislative or regulatory process, or voting behavior”.

But exactly how the regulation will define ads that fall in and out of scope remains to be seen.

Perhaps the most important measure of a very thin proposal is around transparency – where the Commission has proposed a “transparency label” for paid political advertisements.

It says these “must be clearly labeled” and provide “a set of important information” – including the sponsor’s name “a prominently displayed and easily retrieved transparency notice”; with the amount spent on political advertising; sources of funds used; And a link between advertising and contextual elections or referendums.

However, again, the commission is hoping that certain transparency requirements will impose a sea change on a notoriously opaque and fraud-ridden industry – one fueled by the rampant misuse and illegal exploitation of people’s data. instead of chopping off the head of the hydra In fact Curbing targeting – such as by limiting political targeting to broad-brush contextual buckets.

It therefore writes: “All political advertising services, from adtech, which are intermediaries in the placement of advertisements, to consultants producing advertising campaigns, and to advertising agencies, information accessible to them through the provision of their service about advertising They have to maintain, sponsor and disseminate the advertisement. They must transfer this information to the publisher of the political advertisement – this can be a website or app where the advertisement is viewed by an individual, a newspaper, a TV broadcaster, a radio station, etc. The publisher will be required to make the information available to the person viewing the advertisement.”

The commission further suggests, “Transparency of political advertising will help people understand when they see paid political ads.” is clearly marked as political advertising and also includes a transparency notice with a broader context of the sponsor’s identity and political advertising and its objectives, or a clear indication that it can be easily retrieved.

It is a good theory but for one thing a lot of interference in elections happens from outside the area where elections are being held.

On that the commission says that it will be needed Organizations that provide political advertising services in the European Union, but have no physical presence there to designate a legal representative in the member states where the services are provided, suggest: “This will ensure greater transparency and accountability of service providers operating outside the consortium.”

Exactly how this would be required (and enforced) that condition is unclear.

Another problem is that all of these transparency obligations will only apply to “political advertising services”.

Promotions that are uploaded to online platforms such as Facebook only by a “user” – aka an entity that does not self identity As a political advertising service – apparently any transparency would avoid the need for accountability.

Even though they – know – are operating out of a Russian trollfarm that is actively trying to destabilize the EU… as long as they ‘Hans, 32, Berliner, Love Cats, CSU Hate’ claims to be.

Now if platforms like Facebook were absolutely great at identifying, reporting, and wielding illegal activities, fake accounts and shady influence in their own backyard, it would be Courage There is no such problem for “one user” to leave the door open to posting unaccounted political propaganda. but a whole clutch of informer Explained in great detail that Facebook is at least not much.

So this looks like another massive loophole – one that underscores that the only real way to fix the problem of online propaganda and election interference is to eliminate the pragmatic targeting term rather than just fiddling around the edges. . Not least because with some trivial measure that would only provide a flawed, partial transparency, you risk giving people a false sense of security as well as further generalizing exploitative manipulation (just as long as you have a ‘ policy’).

Once online ads and content can be targeted at individuals by tracking their digital activity and harvesting their personal data for profiling, this is open season for opaque InfluenceOps and malicious interests, whatever political advertising transparency. The rules you try to take on top of cheap, highly scalable tools offered by advertising giants like Facebook to keep your campaign going — at the cost of your free and fair elections.

In fact the proposal of this regulation is to create a huge admin burden for advertisers who actually intend to run public/above board political campaigns – to the underbelly of paid mud slingers, hate mongers and disinformation Leaving takes advantage of his bountiful flaws to launch massive manipulation campaigns. through it.

So it will be interesting to see if the European Parliament takes steps to school the Commission by adding some option amendments to its draft – as MEPs have been taking a strong line against micro-targeting in recent months.

On penalties, for now, under the Commission’s proposal, ‘official’ advertising services can be fined for breaking things like transparency and record-keeping requirements, but how much will be determined at a local level by member states – a The level the commission says should be “effective, proportionate and counterproductive”.

What could this mean? Under the proposal, national data protection authorities (DPAs) would be responsible for monitoring the use of personal data in political targeting and levying fines – therefore, ultimately, to determine the level of fines that domestic rule-breaking political operators face. for.

Which doesn’t really inspire a lot of confidence. DPAs are, after all, revived by a single set of political entities – or whatever flavor the government has in it.

The UK ICO conducted a comprehensive audit of the data processing activities of political parties following the 2018 Cambridge Analytica Facebook data abuse scandal – and in 2020 it reported finding a laundry list of failures across the political spectrum.

So what did the European Union’s (at the time) best resourced DPA do about all these major violations by UK political parties?

The enforcement actions of ICOs at that time included – check notes – Issuance of a series of recommendations.

There was also a caveat that Courage Take further action in future. And this summer the ICO issued a fine: £10,000 fined the Conservative Party for spamming voters. Which really doesn’t sound very disappointing tbh.

Earlier this month one of these UK political data criminals, the Labor Party, was dubbed a “data incident” – involving an unnamed third party data processor. It remains to be seen what sanction it may face for failing to protect backers’ information in that (post-ICO-audit) instance.

EdTech has also generally faced little enforcement from the European Union’s DPA – despite several complaints against its privacy-defying targeting methods – and despite ICOs saying back in 2019 that under existing data protection law its The methods are largely illegal.

Vested interests in Europe have been incredibly successful in preventing regulatory enforcement against aggressive ad targeting.

And, apparently, also derailing progress by defying upcoming EU regulations – so they do big-data ‘sausage-factory’ (in this case) political microtargeting to keep them from dicing ‘n’ Won’t do much. the eyes of the citizens.

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