EU to limit political ads, ban use of certain personal info

The European Union has drawn up plans to help people better understand when they are seeing political ads online and who is responsible for them

Via AP news wire
Thursday 25 November 2021 11:03

Concerned by the misuse of political advertising to undermine elections, the European Union on Thursday unveiled plans to help people better understand when they are seeing such ads online and who is responsible for them.

The proposals, aimed at ensuring fair and transparent polls or referendums, would also ban political targeting and “amplification techniques” used to reach a wider audience if they use sensitive personal data like ethnic origin, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation without a citizen’s permission.

“Digital advertising for political purposes is becoming an unchecked race of dirty and opaque methods,” European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova said. “A myriad of data analytics and communication firms work daily with our data to try to figure out the best way to convince us to buy something or vote for someone or not to vote at all."

She said people “must know why they are seeing an ad, who paid for it, how much, what micro-targeting criteria were used. New technologies should be tools for emancipation, not for manipulation."

The commission, the EU’s executive branch, hopes that the 27 member countries and the European Parliament will have debated and endorsed the proposals in national law by 2023, in time for Europe-wide elections the following year.

Companies like Facebook Google and Twitter would face fines if they failed to comply.

Under the plan, political ads would have to be clearly labelled, and prominently display the name of the sponsor, with a transparency notice that explains how much the ad cost and where the funds to pay for it came from. The material would have to have a direct link to the vote or poll concerned.

Information must be available about the basis on which a person, or group of people, is being targeted by the advertisement, and what kind of amplification tools are being used to help the sponsor reach a wider audience. Ads would be banned if such criteria cannot be met.

Jourova told reporters that “the sensitive data that people decide to share with friends on social media cannot be used to target them for political purposes.” She said that “either companies like Facebook are able to publicly say who they are targeting, why and how or they will not be able to do it.”

The system would be policed by data protection authorities in each of the EU member countries. National authorities would be required to impose “effective, proportionate and dissuasive fines” when the rules are broken.

The plans received a cautious welcome from industry.

“Currently each state has its own approach for political ads, so more guidance at the EU level would help promote EU-wide efforts, which is particularly important for smaller companies,” said Victoria de Posson, senior manager at The Computer & Communications Industry Association.

But she said that clarification is needed “on definitions and targeting requirements” and wants the EU to consult “industry and civil society representatives to ensure that the new legislative framework sets effective rules and shared responsibilities among stakeholders, thus making the law work better in practice.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in