MEPs to take Big Tech to task with proposals on political advertising

24 Jan 2023

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One MEP said that he hoped elections in the EU will be ‘more transparent and resistant to manipulation as witnessed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal’.

A motion has been passed to amend the European Parliament’s stance on political advertising to make EU elections more transparent and resistant to outsider interference.

MEPs sitting on the Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) voted in favour of toughening the EU’s political advertising rules by a significant majority.

IMCO is proposing that advert providers can only use personal data that was explicitly given to them for political advertising.

Its proposals are being supported by the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE).

So-called micro-targeting, or using consumer data to ascertain the political interests of certain demographics, will therefore not be allowed if the changes are put in place. Targeting ads at people because of their gender, race or sexual orientation or any other criteria will be banned both online and offline. The data of minors will also be completely off-limits for advertisers.

Self-posted content is exempt from these proposed targeting rules, however. There is also a loophole in the current legislation that allows for advertisers to target political messages at a large scale via email, letter and SMS messages. IMCO wants this loophole closed.

As well as these changes, IMCO proposed that it should be easier for the public and the media to obtain information on how adverts are being financed and how personal data is being used. It wants to create an online repository for this information.

“Our challenge is to combat more effectively all forms of disinformation and external interference in our democratic processes while preserving the openness that characterises the European public debate,” said Sandro Gozi, MEP.

“Once in force, we hope by 2023, elections in the EU will be more transparent and resistant to manipulation as witnessed in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.”

Meta did not accept any responsibility for the Cambridge Analytica scandal which saw the tech giant accused of illegally sharing Facebook user data with third parties. It did, however, agree to pay $725m to settle the case.

If the new rules are broken, Gozi said, offenders will face sanctions. The European Data Protection Board will also have the power to intervene in the case of breaches under the new proposals.

A motion to obtain a negotiating mandate will be brought before the Parliament in February, then negotiations can begin between the Council and Parliament.

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Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.