Big Tech scrambles as Europe steps up crusade against online advertising – POLITICO

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Europe is cracking down on online ads – and Big Tech knows it.

The world’s biggest tech companies are already trying to preempt Europe’s crackdown on online tracking by announcing a series of new policies designed to limit how and to what extent they target their users. TuesdayFacebook said it would remove some of its most controversial ad targeting services, such as the ability to show people ads based on directions their religion, sexual orientation and political affiliation.

Google is set to phase out support for third-party cookies – a widely used technology that tracks users’ online activity – by 2022, while Apple has already started blocking tracking technology on its browser and its phones.

The moves come amid growing consensus among European lawmakers, regulators and campaigners that targeted online advertising must be brought under control.

Just last week, online advertising lobby IAB recognized that it seems likely that he will be found guilty of breaching European privacy rules for its widely used system of obtaining consent to use data to target advertisements.

Some European lawmakers want to insert an outright ban on targeted advertising into the block’s sprawling new content moderation rules, known as the the Digital Services Act, while MPs work on a draft digital competition regulation provide penalties that restrict companies’ ability to hit users with internet advertisements if they violate the new regulation.

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The backlash against online ads is a sign that European policymakers believe companies like Facebook and Google have not done enough to curb a practice that many internet users regard as frightening.

“Facebook is feeling the heat, but their new changes are certainly not enough,” said German green lawmaker Alexandra Geese, who is working on the draft EU content regulation. “It’s a good sign that they sense targeted ad regulations are coming and we’ll keep up the pressure to call for a ban.”

Others are also skeptical. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen recently noted several elements of Facebook’s ad system, such as lack of transparency and micro-targeting, “really need to be regulated.”

The industry is scared.

BFI is ad serving and the publication of studies predicting disastrous consequences for small businesses and consumers if a ban on targeted advertising is implemented. They argue that a ban would widen the gap between those who benefit from technological developments and those who do not.

But will Europe really follow through on its threat to ban targeted advertising? Evidence suggests it could be complicated.

The IAB said an expected ruling finds him guilty of breach of privacy will be an easy fix, while the ruling’s legal precedent will mostly serve to pile more paperwork on small businesses, concentrating even more power in the hands of big players like Google, according to observers.

And this proposal to ban micro-targeting may not come to fruition.

No consensus yet

Leading lawmakers in the European Parliament working on the proposal are far from reaching an agreement.

Geese, who is leading the call for the ban, is optimistic about the action in parliament, particularly after a majority of lawmakers backed a non-binding call a year ago to limit online tracking of people. advertising. But Danish Social Democrat Christel Schaldemose, who is leading parliament’s work on the bill, said that was unlikely.

“I would prefer a ban, but that’s impossible based on the negotiations so far, I haven’t heard of anything that gives me confidence that we can find a compromise,” she said.

Schaldemose’s proposal to require platforms to seek users’ consent before tracking them – a far cry from a ban on targeted ads – also failed to win support from his 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 handle targeted ads.

“It is too early to upset [the EU’s data protection rules]. It might even be seen as pointless for Europe to tell the world that we have the ‘gold standard’ of data protection rules, only to come up with totally different rules five years later,” he said. she stated.

Senior European Commission officials have also warned lawmakers against manipulation of the online advertising system.

Vice-President Věra Jourová warned Parliament in October that it could “destroy” the existing online advertising system if Europe goes ahead with a ban, while Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager is echoed by the advertising lobby, saying a ban would make life difficult for small and medium-sized businesses.

Even when it comes to controversial political ads, the Commission prefers transparency measures to bans – although it may have more power to restrict or even enforce temporary bans on targeted ads for companies that repeatedly flout the rules. new digital competition rules.

EU countries, which are close to an agreement on the Digital Services Act, have so far shown little interest in the issue. Germany’s proposal to ban personalized ads for minors did not receive support.

Schaldemose, the Danish MEP, said she would try to negotiate a deal “to send a strong signal to the Council” to show a united Parliament ahead of future negotiations with EU countries, but added that the Lawmakers shouldn’t miss a “historic opportunity to regulate tech giants.

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