EU takes intention at political adverts on social media

The EU wants to force Facebook and Google to reveal how they target people with political advertisements in order to shed some light on the gloomy world of online campaigns.

A draft new law tabled in the Financial Times suggests that tech companies should disclose how many people a political ad targets, how long the ad runs, and what methods they use to choose who sees it.

The document warned that the way in which large Internet companies used people’s data to target them with political advertisements had “negative effects” on “their freedom of expression, information, political decisions and the exercise of their voting rights”.

Facebook has made nearly $ 3 billion in ads on social issues, elections, or politics in the US since May 2018, while Google made $ 810 million.

Although political advertising represents a small fraction of the two companies’ total revenues, there have been repeated complaints that the current system allows political parties to target voters without any transparency whatsoever.

Vera Jourova, the European Commission’s Vice-President for Values ​​and Transparency, told an audience in Lisbon this month that digital advertising for political purposes is “the uncontrolled race of dirty and opaque methods”.

“We have to hit the slower button because our democracy is too precious,” she said. “The right to speak does not mean the right to reach.”

The rules will force political parties to flag their ads and force companies working on so-called theme-based advertising to clearly identify which political party is funding an ad.

The regulation is expected to come into force before the end of the current European Parliament in 2024. The stricter rules will also force users on Twitter to identify whoever sponsors their posts.

Companies that violate the rules must be fined up to 5 percent of sales according to the data protection regulations in force in the block, the draft proposals say. Enforcement is handed over to the national authorities.

Once the draft law has been published, the text will be discussed in a “trialogue” between the Member States, Parliament and the Commission.

Crackdown on the way large online platforms deal with political advertising is part of a broader movement in Brussels to combat the power of big tech.

Google and Facebook did not immediately respond to a request for comment. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021

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