Give users genuine control over ad targeting, MEPs urged

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More than 30 civil society organizations, pro-privacy tech businesses and European startups are making a last ditch effort to try to persuade EU lawmakers to impose stricter limits on surveillance advertising as a major overhaul on the bloc’s digital rules update Vote looms.

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The European Parliament will soon vote to ratify its negotiating position on the Digital Services Act (DSA) – and call on 30 signatories to the Joint Statement on “Surveillance-Based Advertising” to back amendments to the DSA to tighten the rules from MEPs. are soliciting. People’s data can be used to target ads.

In essence they argue that perceived personal data (aka what it can learn/guess about you by spying on your digital activity) should be off limits for ad targeting – and advertisers should be able to use only that information. Must be able to do what is consciously provided to them by the individuals in question to target their marketing.


An example of how this might work might be that a forum periodically asks a user to select certain categories of goods/interest for which they are happy to receive marketing offers – eg, beauty products, hiking/outdoor gear, vacations, or culture/art.

They will then be able to use such cues for ad targeting, making it relevant rather than scary.

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This is not such a radical suggestion.

Regulators in the field have in fact been warning that tracking-based advertising has been on borrowed time for years, given systemic violations of EU privacy laws. However, it has been difficult to pinpoint actual regulatory enforcement against edtech.

The outgoing UK Data Protection Commissioner recently urged the industry to reform – and move away from the current paradigm of tracking and profiling – saying that the future should be about providing Internet users with a real choice that they How to be targeted with marketing messages.

The signatories of the statement calling on lawmakers to be behind such ad targeting reform argue that it would have huge benefits – preventing problems associated with covert surveillance of web users that can lead to abusive ads that manipulate and exploit.

There has been much discussion in recent years on theories about the disadvantages of micro-targeted advertising – with the risks of behavioral targeting being associated with discrimination, exploitation of vulnerable people/groups, and democracy-toothed electoral interference, to name a few.

The problem with surveillance advertising is that it cannot be publicly accountable because it lacks true transparency.

Yet there are other ways to target ads that don’t require creepy spying and behavioral profiling.

“We are confident that targeted digital advertisements can be delivered effectively and without regard to users’ choice and privacy (ie without covert surveillance practices), provided that data provided by users specifically for that purpose is processed in a transparent and accountable manner,” the signatories write.

The statement describes the use of “predicted data, which reveals users’ vulnerabilities and, by definition, is collected or generated without their awareness and control” as “a particularly problematic practice in digital advertising”. : “It’s time to end. Because it causes significant harm on an individual and societal level, as evidenced by extensive academic research and recent disclosures including Facebook files and the testimony of whistleblower Frances Haugen or Mozilla’s YouTube Regrets study Is.

“It is in the best interest of companies engaging in digital advertising to respect the preferences, autonomy, and expressed (not implied) preferences of users,” they indicate. survey results Which found that 75% of social media users in France and Germany are not comfortable when their behavior data is used to target them with advertising.

“While small and medium-sized businesses legitimately use online advertising to reach their customers, they do not need to rely on intrusive surveillance as a means to that end,” they further argue.

The statement suggests that the main beneficiary of current edtech’s ‘surveillance free-for-all’ – and widespread, covert mass tracking of Internet users – is likely to be the US tech giant.

While progressive European startups – which have been striving for years to scale up alternative, privacy-respecting approaches to ad targeting – are being competitively denied the abuse of data infringing on the rights of US giants.

“The only actors to benefit from the exploitation of user vulnerabilities and cross-site tracking are US-based large online platforms, which are interested in maintaining their dominant position in the digital advertising market,” the statement argued. So that “progressive” privacy-focused startups can enhance their rights-related services and make them more accessible to smaller brands.

“Abolition of the most aggressive practices will strengthen small European brands and GDPR” [General Data Protection Regulation] This will promote fair competition in digital advertising and restore the power of quality in the form of compliant digital services as well as local media.

This is an argument that should – in theory – play well with European elected representatives in parliament.

However in recent years US tech giants – led by Google and Facebook – have been lobbying lawmakers in Brussels for millions to do away with policies that could harm their surveillance-based business models. So it’s not a fair fight by any means.

Chief among the claims of the tech giant lobbying has been the suggestion that tougher rules on targeting would affect small businesses in Europe. Indeed, Facebook (now Meta) even claimed that banning surveillance ads would ruin the economy of the block.

But of course they would say so, wouldn’t they…

The 17 civil society organizations that have signed the joint statement are: Panopticon Foundation, Access Now, Alliance4Europe, Amnesty International, Article 19, Bits of Freedom, Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberties), Defend Democracy, Fair Vote, Global Witness, Irish Council For Civil Liberties, #jesuisla, Norwegian Consumer Council, Ranking Digital Rights (RDR), The Signal Network, SumOfUs and Uplift.

The 14 business representatives who supported the call to ban the use of inferred data for ad targeting are:

Disconnect, Casey Oppenheim, Co-Founder and CEO
DuckDuckGo, Gabriel Weinberg, CEO and Founder
Ecosia, Christian Kroll, CEO
Fastmail, Braun Gondwana, CEO and Nicola Nee, Chief of Staff
Kobler, Eric Buge, CEO
Melfense, Patrick de Shutter, Co-Founder and MD
Mosaic, Colin Hehurst, CEO
Opt Out Advertising, Tom Van Bentheim, CEO
Piwik Pro, Maciej Zwadzinski, CEO
Quodari, Paul Pennarts, CEO
Startmail, Robert Beans, CEO
Startpage, Robert Beans, CEO
Strausley, Ha Kon Tillier, CEO
Tutanota, Matthias Pfau, CEO

An earlier push by several MEPs late last year to impose an outright ban on surveillance-based ad targeting included in the DSA did not prevail.

However, a parliamentary committee rolled back stricter restrictions on tracking-based advertising in another draft package of EU legislation that would allow the most powerful internet gatekeepers (such a huge US giant), aka the Digital Markets Act (DMA). ) – Requirements to add a complete ban on ad targeting and behavioral targeting of minors by increasing consent.

But the 31 signatories to today’s statement argue that IMCO’s changes do not go far enough against the data industrial monitoring complex, writing: “We urge Members of the European Parliament to support the full amendment to Article 24 of the DSA that go beyond existing IMCOs. Supporting users’ genuine choices – such as the use of projected data – compromising and governing surveillance practices in digital advertising.”

Karolina Ivanska, a lawyer and policy analyst at the Panopticon Foundation, also told us: “Unfortunately the agreement around ads in the IMCO committee is very weak and largely maintains the status quo” – adding that: “The ‘SMEs’ of Big Tech” The lobbying was very successful.”

“We believe that a Truth A compromise between a complete ban on the use of personal data (unrealistic at this point) and the status quo (everything is allowed when consent is gathered) is possible – but sadly ignored in Parliament,” she said Anti-surveillance campaigners are now hoping to persuade MEPs to reform personalized advertising by limiting targeted preferences – which they believe will give Internet users “de facto control.”

If you want to achieve your goal then effort will need to work fast.

Per Iwańska, campaigners have drafted an amendment – but have yet to get support from MEPs to submit it so that the entire parliament can vote on it in full. Clearly this will be a crisis time for this push in the next few days.

The Commission proposes legislation under the EU’s co-legislative process and then after a process of extensive negotiations between Member States and the European Parliament on policy details – to rework and re-shape the upcoming EU rules. Before giving a chance to give, my sister spoke.

Both the DSA and the DMA were proposed in late 2020 by the European Commission, with the aim of updating the bloc’s ecommerce rules and dialing up accountability on digital businesses by widening the requirements to define areas of additional responsibility around content. To do.

Whereas the DMA, with a set of prior rules aimed at preventing abusive practices, targets the internet giant’s competition- and consumer-crushing market power.

Trilogy talks on the DSA are set to begin soon – once parliament confirms its position in next week’s plenary vote. And – eventually – the final text would require another plenary vote in Parliament. So campaigners against surveillance advertising may have other points to try to pursue strategic amendments.

One thing is clear: lobbying will continue throughout the year.

Any restrictions on ad targeting in the EU will still have to wait for the law to be adopted and put into effect – with EU lawmakers set to introduce a grace period for digital businesses to come into compliance. So any rule change won’t bite for at least several months.

While the DMA – which is moving very quickly through the co-legislative process – could be up and running relatively quickly, perhaps in 2023, the DSA is likely to take longer before it is implemented; Maybe not until 2024.

In the meantime, the tracking and targeting continues…

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