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Europe is coming after online advertising – and Big Tech knows it.
The world’s largest technology companies are already trying to prevent the removal of Europe from internet tracking, announcing a host of new policies intended to limit how and how much they target their users. On Tuesday, Facebook said it would remove some of its most controversial advertising targets services, such as the ability to show advertisements to people based on directions of their religion, sexual orientation and political affiliation.
Google intends to remove support for third-party cookies – a widely used technology that tracks users ’online performance – by 2022, while Apple has already begun blocking tracking technology in its browser and phones.
These moves are happening because there is a growing consensus among European legislators, regulators and activists that targeted online advertising needs to be curbed.
Just last week, the online advertising lobby IAB acknowledged that it appears likely to be found guilty of violating Europe’s privacy rules for its widely used system to obtain consent to use data to target advertisements.
Some EU lawmakers want to include a direct ban on targeted advertising in the bloc’s vast new rules on moderating content, known as the Digital Services Act, while MEPs working on a draft digital competition regulation are considering sanctions that limit companies’ ability to crack down. users via the internet. announcements if they violate the new rulebook.
Regulations coming in
The backlash against online advertising is a sign that Europe’s decision-makers don’t think companies like Facebook and Google have done enough to limit a practice that many netizens view as intimidating.
“Facebook is feeling hot, but their new changes are certainly not enough,” said German green legislator Alexandra Geese, who is working on the draft of Europe’s content rulebook. “It’s a good sign that they feel regulation on targeted claims is coming and we will continue the pressure by asking for a ban.”
Others are also skeptical. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen said recently several parts of Facebook’s advertising system such as the lack of transparency and micro-targeting “really need to be regulated.”
The industry is scared.
IAB takes care of advertisements and publishes studies predicting dire consequences for small businesses and consumers if a ban on targeted advertising continues. They claim that a ban would widen the gap between those who benefit from technological developments and those who do not.
But will Europe actually follow up on its threat to ban targeted advertising? Evidence suggests that this could be complicated.
IAB said an expected verdict finds it guilty of privacy violations will be an easy solution, while the legal precedent of the decision will serve primarily to accumulate more paper on smaller companies, concentrating even more power in the hands of large players like Google, according to observers.
And that proposed ban on micro-targeting may not materialize.
No consent yet
Leading lawmakers in the European Parliament working on the proposal are nowhere near an agreement.
Geese, who is leading the call for a ban, is optimistic that Parliament will follow suit, especially after a majority of lawmakers backed an optional call to curb online tracking of claims a year ago. But Danish Social Democrat Christel Schaldemose, who is leading Parliament’s work on the bill, said it was unlikely.
“I would prefer a ban, but it’s impossible based on negotiations so far, I haven’t heard of anything that would make me believe we can find a compromise,” she said.
Schaldemose’s proposal to require platforms to seek users ’consent before tracking them – significantly in the absence of a ban on targeted advertisements – also failed to garner support from her conservative and liberal counterparts.
Czech Liberal MEP Dita Charanzová said EU content moderation rules should not undermine existing privacy laws that are better equipped to deal with targeted claims.
“It is too early to tell [the EU’s data protection rules]. It might even be seen as useless for Europe to tell the world that we have the “golden standard” of data protection rules, only to set completely different rules just five years later, ”she said.
European Commission chief officials have also warned lawmakers against messing with the internet advertising system.
Vice President Věra Jourová warned Parliament in October that it could “destroy” the existing online advertising system if Europe continued with a ban, while Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager echoed the advertising lobby, saying a ban would make life difficult for small and medium-sized businesses. -large companies.
Even when it comes to controversial policy claims, the Commission prefers transparent measures rather than bans – although it may be given more power to limit or even enforce temporary bans on targeted claims for companies that repeatedly violate new digital competition rules.
EU countries approaching an agreement on the Digital Services Act have so far received little interest in the matter. Germany’s proposal to ban personalized advertising for minors has not received support.
Schaldemose, the Danish MEP, said she would try to mediate an agreement “to send a strong signal to the Council” to show a united parliament ahead of future negotiations with EU countries, but added that lawmakers should not miss a “historic opportunity to”. to regulate technical giants. “
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