Europe offers lukewarm set of political ad transparency rules – TechCrunch


It has been nearly a year since the EU executive announced it would propose rules for transparency of political ads in response to concerns about online micro-targeting and big data techniques that promote integrity. democratic and responsible minced meat.

Today he came out with his proposal. But frankly, it doesn’t seem like the wait is worth it.

The Commission RP says the proposal will introduce “strict conditions for targeting and amplifying” political advertising using digital tools – including what it describes as a ban on targeting and amplification that uses or infers “personal data sensitive, such as ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual orientation ”.

However, the claimed “ban” does not apply if “explicit consent” is obtained from the person whose sensitive data is to be exploited to better target it with propaganda – and online “consents” to target advertising. are already a flash in the pan of non-compliance in the region.

It is therefore not clear why the Commission believes that political interests determined to influence the elections will play under a rulebook on the protection of privacy that almost no online advertiser operating in the region currently doeseven those who are just trying to get people to buy unnecessary plastic trinkets or “detox” teas.

In a Questions and answers providing more details on the proposal, the Commission lists a set of requirements that it believes anyone using political targeting and amplification will have to comply with, which includes an internal policy on the use of these techniques; keep records of the targeting and use of personal data; and recording the source of said personal data – at best, he therefore seems to hope to overwhelm propagandists with the need to create and maintain a plausible paper trail.

Because it also allows another exception to allow political targeting – writes: “Targeting could also be allowed within the framework of legitimate activities of foundations, associations or nonprofit organizations with a political, philosophical vocation. , religious or commercial. union objective, when it targets its own members.

It is incredibly vague. A “foundation” or “association” with a political “goal” sounds like something any campaign or special interest group could set up – that is, to pursue the “legitimate” activity of (behavioral?) target propaganda against voters.

In short, the potential loopholes for political micro-targeting – including through the dissemination of disinformation – appear enormous.

On scope, the Commission says it wants the incoming rules to apply to ‘announcements by, for or on behalf of a political actor’ as well as to ‘so-called’ problem-based advertising – that is, that is, politically charged issues that can be a powerful proxy for influencing voters – which, he notes, are “likely to influence the outcome of an election or a referendum, a process legislative or regulatory or electoral behavior ”.

But how exactly the regulations will define which advertisements fall in and out of the scope remains to be seen.

Perhaps the most substantial measure of a very thin proposal concerns transparency – where the Commission has proposed ‘transparency labels’ for paid political ads.

He says these should be “clearly labeled” and provide “a set of key information” – including the name of the sponsor “prominently and an easily retrievable transparency notice”; as well as the amount spent on political advertising; the sources of funds used; and a link between the announcement and the elections or referendums concerned.

However, once again the Commission appears to be hoping that a few transparency demands will force a radical change in an infamously opaque and fraud-ridden industry – an industry that has been fueled by widespread misuse and illegal exploitation of people’s data. Rather than cutting off the hydra’s head in Actually curb targeting, for example by limiting political targeting to general contextual categories.

This is why he writes: “All political advertising services, from adtech which mediates the placement of ads, to consultants and advertising agencies producing the advertising campaigns, will have to keep the information to which they have access through the media. providing their service on the ad, sponsor and broadcast of the ad. They will need to transfer this information to the publisher of the political ad – this could be the website or app where the ad is viewed by an individual, newspaper, TV broadcaster, radio station. , etc. The publisher will need to make the information available to the person viewing the ad.

“The transparency of political advertising will help people understand when they see paid political advertising”, further suggests the Commission, adding: “With the proposed rules, every political advertisement – whether on Twitter, Facebook or any other platform online – should be clearly marked as a political advertisement as well as include the identity of the sponsor and a transparency notice with the broader context of the political advertisement and its objectives, or a clear indication of where it may be easily recovered.

It’s a nice theory, but on the one hand, a lot of electoral interference comes from outside a region where the election itself is taking place.

On this point, the Commission declares that it will demand organizations that provide political advertising services in the EU but do not have a physical presence there to appoint a legal representative in a Member State where the services are offered, suggesting: “This will ensure more transparency and accountability of service providers operating outside the Union.”

How exactly this will require (and apply) this stipulation is not clear.

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

Propaganda that is uploaded to online platforms like Facebook by a single “user” – that is, an entity that does not to identify as a political advertising service – will apparently escape the need for any accountability for transparency.

Even if they work – you know – in a Russian trollfarm which is actively trying to destabilize the European Union… As long as they claim to be “Hans, 32, Berliner, loves cats, hates CSU”.

Now, if platforms like Facebook were perfectly good at identifying, reporting, and purging inauthentic activity, fake accounts, and shady influence trades in their own backyards, it strength not be such a problem to leave the door open for “a user” to publish inexplicable political propaganda. But a whole clutch of whistleblowers pointed out, in excruciating detail, that Facebook at least isn’t that at all.

So this looks like another massive flaw – one that highlights why the only real way to solve the problem of online disinformation and election interference is to end the period of behavioral targeting, rather than just fiddling with the edges. . Notably because by manipulating some lukewarm metrics that will only offer partial and imperfect transparency, you risk lulling people into a false sense of security – as well as further normalizing abuse (as long as you have a ” policy “in place).

Once ads and online content can be targeted to individuals based on tracking their digital activity and collecting their personal data for profiling, it’s time for opaque InfluenceOps and malicious interests to bypass them. Political ad transparency rules you’re trying to overlay on the cheap, highly scalable tools offered by ad giants like Facebook to keep spreading their propaganda – to the detriment of your free and fair elections.

What this regulation really proposes is to create a heavy administrative burden for advertisers who intend to run genuinely public / above board political campaigns – leaving the belly of paid denigrators, propagators hate and disinformation peddlers to exploit its many loopholes to conduct mass manipulation campaigns properly. through.

It will therefore be interesting to see if the European Parliament takes action to educate the Commission by adding a few choice amendments to its draft, as MEPs have taken a stronger stance against microtargeting in recent months.

On penalties, for now, under the Commission proposal, ‘official’ advertising services could be fined for breaching such things as transparency and record keeping requirements, but the amount will be determined locally, by Member States – at a level which the Commission believes should be ‘effective, proportionate and dissuasive’.

What can this mean? Under the proposal, national data protection authorities (DPAs) will be tasked with monitoring the use of personal data in political targeting and imposing fines – thus, ultimately, determining the level of fines that national political operators breaking the rules could incur.

Which doesn’t really inspire much confidence. ODA is, after all, funded by the same set of political entities – or whatever flavor is in government.

The UK’s ICO carried out an in-depth audit of political parties’ data processing activities in the wake of Cambridge Analytica’s Facebook data abuse scandal in 2018 – and in 2020 it reported finding a exhaustive list of failures across the political spectrum.

So what did the most resourced EU DPA (at the time) do against all of these blatant violations by UK political parties?

The coercive action of the ICO at that time consisted of – check the notes – issue a series of recommendations.

There was also a warning that he strength take further action in the future. And this summer, the ICO imposed a fine: slapping the Conservative Party with a £ 10,000 fine for spamming voters. Which doesn’t really seem like a deterrent tbh.

Earlier this month, another such political data violator in the UK, the Labor Party, was forced to confess what it called a ‘data incident’ – involving an anonymous third-party data processor . It remains to be seen what sanction he could face for not protecting supporters’ information in this instance (post-ICO-audit).

Adtech has also faced very few applications from EU DPAs – despite numerous complaints against its privacy-gutting targeting methods – and despite the ICO saying in 2019 that its methods were largely illegal under existing data protection law.

Special interests in Europe have been incredibly successful in thwarting the enforcement of regulations against invasive ad targeting.

And, apparently, also derail progress by downgrading the new EU rules – so they won’t do much to stop the big data ‘sausage factory’ (in this case) of political micro-targeting from continuing to operate. slice and dice citizen eyeballs.


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