BRUSSELS (NWN). Concerned about the abuse of political ads to undermine elections, the European Union on Thursday unveiled plans to help people better understand when they see such ads online and who is responsible for them.
Proposals aimed at ensuring fair and transparent polls or referendums will also prohibit political targeting and “amplification techniques” used to reach a wider audience if they use sensitive personal information such as ethnicity, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, without permission. citizen.
“Digital advertising for political purposes is turning into an uncontrolled race of dirty and non-transparent methods,” said Vera Zhurova, Vice President of the European Commission. “A lot of data analytics and communications firms are working with our data every day, trying to find the best way to convince us to buy something, vote for someone, or not vote at all.”
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She said people “need to know why they see the ad, who paid for it, how much, what micro-targeting criteria were used. New technologies should be instruments of emancipation, not manipulation. “
The Commission, the EU’s executive branch, hopes that the 27 member states and the European Parliament will discuss and approve proposals in national legislation by 2023, in time for next year’s pan-European elections.
Companies like Facebook and Google, the two dominant players in the digital advertising industry, face fines if they don’t comply.
Facebook, which has been heavily criticized for opaque political advertising, welcomed the move.
“We have long called for a pan-European regulation of political advertising and are pleased that the Commission’s proposal addresses some of the more challenging issues, in particular when it comes to cross-border advertising,” said the company, which recently renamed itself Meta. press statement.
Google did not respond to a request for comment. Twitter, which banned all political advertising in 2019, said it believed “political reach should be earned, not bought,” and noted that it has also restricted and removed micro-targeting from other types of advertising, such as reason-based …
According to the EU plan, political advertisements should be clearly marked, the sponsor’s name should be prominently displayed with a transparency notice explaining how much the advertisement costs and where the funds come from to pay for it. The material must have a direct link to the relevant poll or poll.
Information should be available on why the person or group of people is being advertised and what reinforcement tools are used to help the sponsor reach a wider audience. Ads will be blocked if these criteria are not met.
Zhurova told reporters that “confidential data that people decide to share with friends on social networks cannot be used to target them for political purposes.” She said that “either companies like Facebook can publicly declare who they are targeting, why and how, or they cannot.”
The system will be monitored by the data protection authorities in each of the EU member states. National authorities will have to impose “effective, proportionate and dissuasive fines” in the event of a rule violation.
The industry has also greeted the plans with caution.
“At present, every state has a different approach to political advertising, so more detailed guidance at the EU level will help advance efforts across the EU, which is especially important for smaller companies,” said Victoria de Pawson, senior manager at The Computer & Communications Industry Association. … …
But she said there was a need for clarification “on targeting definitions and requirements” and would like the EU to consult “with industry and civil society to ensure that the new legal framework establishes effective rules and division of responsibility between stakeholders, thereby improving how the law works in practice. … “
Calvin Chan contributed from London.