Unsolicited use of citizens’ personal data to bombard them with tailored political ads? As the 2024 European elections approach, the European Parliament wants to impose strict restrictions on so-called micro-targeting.
Micro-targeting is a technique in which advertisers target their message to a specific target group based on analyzes of personal data. Someone who profiles themselves online as a cyclist may see advertisements for cycling equipment. The UK Brexit referendum campaign and the 2016 US presidential election made it clear that microtargeting is also embedded in politics and is susceptible to manipulation.
“We are going to make misleading political advertisements online out of the past by making it impossible to hunt down people’s specific weaknesses,” Italian Sandro Gozi (Renew) said after committee approval of a draft regulation that would shock the world of the brand. more transparent political advertising and better arming democratic systems against misinformation and foreign interference.
The text prohibits certain sensitive personal data, such as ethnic origin, religious beliefs or sexual preferences, from being used for targeted political advertising, both online and offline. In addition, the use of online technology is limited to four categories of personal data for which the user gives his explicit authorization. The rules are further tightened in the sixty days before elections or referendums, when targeted ads are only allowed based on location, language and whether someone is a first-time voter. Micro-targeting to minors will be prohibited.
“The era of platforms using massive amounts of unsolicited data to influence voter voting behavior is coming to an end. Or, even worse, pitting groups of people against each other,” says Tom Vandenkdelaere (CD&V /EVP) “In the future, users will be able to decide for themselves which personalized online political advertisements they wish to receive. This will be an important step forward in protecting democracy ahead of the 2024 European elections.”
MEPs also want more information on political advertising to be made available to citizens, authorities and journalists. For example, they champion a new database of political ads and related information. The text should make it easier to get information about who pays for political advertising, how much has been paid and where the money comes from. Information should also be published about specific target groups and what personal data was used for this purpose.
MEPs also provide for sanctions and a ban on individuals or organizations from third countries paying for political advertisements in the European Union. The text received broad approval on Tuesday (31 votes for, 0 against, 9 abstentions) in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee. The entire hemisphere should give the go-ahead next week, and then negotiations with member states can begin. The aim is for the rules to come into force before the 2024 European elections.