EU to limit political ads and ban the use of certain personal information

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Concerned about the misuse of political advertising to undermine elections, the European Union on Thursday unveiled plans to help people better understand when they see 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 such as ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual orientation without the permission of a citizen.

“Digital advertising for political purposes is becoming an uncontrolled race of dirty and opaque methods,” said European Commission Vice-President Vera Jourova. “A myriad of data analytics and communications companies work with our data on a daily basis to try to find the best way to convince us to buy something, vote for someone, or not vote at all.”

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

The commission, the EU’s executive arm, hopes the 27 member countries and the European Parliament will have debated and approved the proposals into national law by 2023, in time for the European elections the following year.

Companies like Facebook and Google, the two dominant players in the digital advertising industry, could face fines if they did not comply.

Facebook, which has come under heavy criticism for its lack of transparency on political ads, welcomed the move.

“We have long called for EU-wide regulation on political advertising and we are pleased that the Commission proposal addresses some of the more difficult issues, in particular as regards cross-border advertising,” said the company, which recently renamed itself Meta, in a statement. A press release.

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Google said in a blog post that it supported the proposals and recommended that the commission clearly define political ads and clarify the responsibilities of technology platforms and advertisers while keeping the rules flexible.

Twitter, which banned all political advertising in 2019, said it believes “political reach should be earned, not bought” and noted that it has also restricted and removed micro-targeting of other types of advertising. advertisements such as those based on a cause.

As part of the EU plan, political ads should be clearly labeled and prominently display the name of the sponsor, with a transparency notice explaining the cost of the ad and where the funds are coming from to pay for it. The material should have a direct link with the relevant vote or poll.

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Information should be available on the basis on which a person or group of people is being targeted by the advertisement and on the type of amplification tools used to help the sponsor reach a wider audience. Ads would be banned if these criteria cannot be met.

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

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


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