Big Tech is facing new EU rules around political advertising

7 Nov 2023

Image: © bizoo_n/

The provisional regulation aims to reduce the danger of manipulation and foreign interference in elections, while placing new rules on when personal data can be used for targeted political ads.

The EU has provisionally agreed to new rules that aim to rein in targeted political advertising, by placing strict limits on the use of targeting and ad delivery techniques.

The European Council presidency and European Parliament negotiators agreed on the main political elements of the new regulation last night (6 November). The regulation aims to protect open and fair political debate in the bloc, according to a Council statement.

The regulation is focused on the transparency and targeting of political advertising, due to concerns about the dangers posed by information manipulation and foreign interference in elections.

The rules aim to make it easier for EU citizens to recognise political advertisements, know who is behind them and whether they have received a targeted advertisement.

Under this regulation, using personal data for targeted political advertising online will be permitted only if the data was collected from someone who gave “explicit and separate consent” for its use for political advertising.

The regulation also includes a “blanket ban” on profiling people based on special categories of personal data, such as race or political opinions. Violating this EU regulation could lead to fines of up to 6pc of an ad provider’s annual turnover, Reuters reports.

The negotiators also agreed to ban advertising services to “third-country sponsors” three months before an election or referendum, in order to reduce the risk of foreign interference in elections.

“Very pleased tonight with the agreement reached with the Council on the text aimed at regulating political advertising,” MEP Sandro Gozi said on X. “A long-awaited step forward for the protection of our elections and democracies, and for more transnational politics.”

The European Council said work will continue in the coming weeks to finalise the new regulation and that the full agreement needs to be confirmed by both itself and the European Parliament before formal adoption. The new rules will apply 18 months after their entry into force, which is expected to be in 2025 according to Reuters.

Various Big Tech companies have been adjusting some of their policies in recent years to deal with the potential interference they can cause in elections.

For example, Google said in 2019 that it would not longer allow voters to be targeted by advertisers based on their political affiliation. In 2020, Meta – then called Facebook – decided to ban political ads in the US the week before voters took to the polls.

In August, X announced that it will allow paid political ads on its platform again, after a four-year hiatus. The company also said it would expand its safety and elections teams to focus on issues such as manipulation and inauthentic accounts.

But in September, X owner Elon Musk said that the company’s election integrity team was fired as they were “undermining election integrity”.

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Leigh Mc Gowran is a journalist with Silicon Republic