Digital Marketing

Give users genuine control over ad targeting, MEPs urged – TechCrunch

Give users genuine control over ad targeting, MEPs urged – TechCrunch
Written by Publishing Team

More than 30 civil society organisations, pro-privacy tech companies and European start-ups are making a last-ditch attempt to try to persuade EU lawmakers to place stricter limits on surveillance advertising as a major vote looms over updating the bloc’s digital rules.

The European Parliament will soon vote to confirm its negotiating position on the Digital Services Act (DSA) – and the 30 signatories to the joint statement on “surveillance-based advertising” are urging MEPs to support amendments to the DSA to tighten rules on how people’s data can be used to target ads.

In short, they argue that inferred personal data (a.k.a. what the platform can learn/guess about you by snooping on your digital activity) should be outside the scope of ad targeting – and that advertisers should only be able to use consciously provided information to them To target their marketing by relevant individuals.

One example of how this might work would be that the platform periodically asks the user to select a few categories of goods/interests for which they would be happy to receive marketing offers – such as, for example, beauty products, hiking/outdoor equipment, holidays, or culture/art.

Then they would only be able to use these signals to target ads, making it contextual rather than intimidating.

This is not a very radical proposition.

Regulators in the region have in fact warned against tracking lost-time-based ads for years, due to systematic violations of EU privacy laws. Although the enforcement of the actual regulator against adtech has been difficult to determine.

Recently, Britain’s outgoing data protection commissioner urged the industry to reform – and move away from the current model of tracking and profiling – saying the future must be about providing internet users with real choice about how to target them with marketing messages.

The signatories to the statement calling on parliamentarians to get behind this kind of ad targeting reform argue that it will have significant benefits – preventing problems associated with the covert surveillance of web users that can lead to abusive ads that manipulate and exploit.

Harm theories around micro-targeted advertising have been discussed a lot in recent years – with the risks of linking behavioral targeting with discrimination, exploitation of vulnerable people/groups, and election interference hampering democracy, to name a few.

The problem with surveillance ads is that they cannot be publicly accountable because they lack real transparency.

However, there are other ways to target ads that don’t require scary snooping and behavioral profiling.

“We are convinced that targeted digital advertising can be served effectively and with respect for users’ choice and privacy (i.e. without confidential monitoring practices), provided that the data specifically provided by users for this purpose is processed in a transparent and accountable manner,” the signatories write.

The statement describes the use of “inferred 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,” arguing: “It is time to end this practice as it causes significant harm.” At the individual and societal level, as evidenced by extensive academic research and recent discoveries including the Facebook profiles and testimony of Detective Francis Hogan or unfortunately Mozilla’s YouTube study.”

They went on to point out the results of a survey that found that 75% of social media users in France and Germany do not feel comfortable using their behavioral data to target them with ads.

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

The statement notes that the main beneficiaries of the current adtech’s “free-for-all surveillance” – and the massive, clandestine tracking of Internet users – are likely to be US tech giants.

Whereas progressive European startups — which have been trying for years to scale alternative privacy-respecting approaches to ad targeting — are being disadvantaged competitively by rights-abusing data breaches by US giants.

“The only actors that benefit from exploiting user vulnerabilities and cross-site tracking are large Internet platforms based in the United States, with an interest in maintaining their dominant position in the digital advertising market,” the statement says, calling for “regulatory incentives” so that “progressive” startups can Privacy-focused services are expanding their rights-respecting services and making them more accessible to small brands.

“Ending the most intrusive practices will strengthen European small brands and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) [General Data Protection Regulation] Compatible digital services, as well as local media as it will promote fair competition in digital advertising and bring back the power of quality.”

It is an argument that should – in theory – play well with elected European representatives in Parliament.

However, in recent years, US tech giants – led by Google and Facebook – have poured millions into lobbying efforts in Brussels in an effort to keep lawmakers away from policies that could harm surveillance-based business models. So this is by no means a fair fight.

Among the tech giant’s lobbying claims was the suggestion that stricter rules on targeting would hit small businesses in Europe. In fact, Facebook (now Meta) has gone so far as to claim that banning surveillance ads would wipe out the block economy.

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

The 17 CSOs signatory to the joint statement are: Panoptykon Foundation, Access Now, Alliance4Europe, Amnesty International, Article 19, Bits of Freedom, Civil Liberties Union for Europe (Liberities), Defense of Democracy, Fair Vote, Global Witness, Council Irish for Civil Liberties, #jesuisla, Norwegian Consumer Council, Digital Rights Rating (RDR), Signal Network, SumOfUs and Uplift.

While the 14 business representatives who support 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
Fast Mill, Prun Gondwana, CEO, and Nicolas Nye, Chief of Staff
Kobler, Eric Pogue, CEO
Milvins, Patrick de Schutter, Co-Founder and Managing Director
Mujic, Colin Heyhurst, CEO
Opt-out of Advertising, Tom Van Bentheim, CEO
Piwik PRO, CEO Maciej Zawadzinski
Quodari, Paul Beinarts, CEO
Startmail, Robert Baines, CEO
Startpage, Robert Baines, CEO
Strussel, Ha-Kun Teller, CEO
Tutanota, Matthias Pfau, CEO

An earlier push by a number of MEPs at the end of last year to impose an outright ban on targeting surveillance-based ads built into the DSA did not prevail.

Although a parliamentary committee has backed tightening restrictions on tracking-based advertising in another draft package of EU legislation that will apply to the internet’s most powerful guards (many US giants), also known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA) – By enhancing approval of ad targeting requirements and adding a complete ban on behavioral targeting of minors.

But the 31 signatories to today’s statement argue that IMCO’s amendments do not go far enough against the industrial data monitoring pool, writing: “We urge MEPs to support general amendments to Article 24 of the DSA that go beyond existing IMCO compromising and excluding monitoring practices in digital advertising – such as Using inferred data – while supporting users’ real choice.”

“Unfortunately, the compromise on advertising at IMCO is very weak and largely preserves the status quo,” Karolina Iwajska, a lawyer and policy analyst at Panoptykon Corporation, also told us. “

“We believe that a correct She added that a compromise between a complete ban on the use of personal data (which is not realistic at this point) and the status quo (everything is allowed if consent is obtained) is possible – but unfortunately ignored in Parliament.” They now hope to persuade MEPs to support a reform Personalized ads by limiting targeting to expressed preferences – which they believe will give Internet users ‘real control’.

The effort must work quickly if it is to achieve its goal.

In Iwańska, activists drafted an amendment – but did not get support from MEPs to introduce it so that Parliament as a whole could vote on it in plenary. Obviously, it’s going to be a rough time for this batch over the next few days.

As part of the EU’s joint legislation process, the Commission proposes legislation, which is then followed by a broader process of negotiations between member states and the European Parliament over policy details – with an opportunity to rewrite and reshape future EU rules before they become final. adopted.

Both the DSA and the DMA were proposed at the end of 2020 by the European Commission, with the DSA aiming to modernize the e-commerce rules of the block and demand accountability over digital businesses by expanding requirements to define additional areas of responsibility around content.

While Dynamic Mechanical Analysis (DMA) targets the market power of competition and consumer crushing of internet giants, with a set of a priori rules aimed at preventing abusive practices.

Tripartite negotiations on the DSA are set to begin soon – once Parliament confirms its position in a public vote next week. And – in the end – there will be a need for another public vote in Parliament on the final text. So activists against surveillance ads may have other points in the process to try to push through strategic adjustments.

One thing is clear: the pressure will continue throughout this year.

Any restrictions on targeting ads in the EU also still have to wait for the legislation to be approved and take effect – with EU lawmakers set to apply a grace period for digital companies to comply. So any rule changes will not last for at least several months.

While DMA – which appears to move very quickly through the co-enactment process – could start working relatively quickly, perhaps as early as 2023, it seems likely that DSA will take longer before it takes effect; Maybe not until 2024.

Meanwhile, tracking and targeting continues…

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