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Targeted advertising: the EU wakes up

Targeted advertising through the use of personal data is partly prohibited, says the European Data Protection Committee. Photo: Shutterstock

Targeted advertising through the use of personal data is partly prohibited, says the European Data Protection Committee. Photo: Shutterstock

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has asked the regulator in Ireland, where Meta has its European headquarters, to require the group to stop targeted advertising within two weeks.

“On 27 October, the EDPB adopted an urgent binding decision instructing the Irish (IE) DPA as lead supervisory authority (LSA) to take, within two weeks, final measures regarding Meta Ireland Limited (Meta IE) and to impose a ban on the processing of personal data for behavioural advertising on the legal bases of contract and legitimate interest across the entire European Economic Area (EEA),” reads a press release from the European Data Protection Board published on 1 November.

No sooner had Mark Zuckerberg’s group announced the launch, on 1 November, of paid subscriptions on Facebook and Instagram to prevent personal data being used for advertising targeting purposes, than the giant had to find another solution to respond to its summer condemnation by the Court of Justice of the EU.

The EDPB’s way of putting pressure on the Irish DPA, which is not particularly renowned for its speedy action, is based on an order from the Norwegian regulator, which also dates back to July and which is very nuanced.

Not only does this order state that it doesn’t ban companies in the Meta group from Norway, but it does not prohibit them from advertising. “Practices such as targeting ads based on information that data subjects have provided in the ‘about’ section of their user profile, or generalised advertising, is out of scope of this order,” it says. “For example, the order does not itself prevent an advertising campaign on Facebook which, based on profile bio information, targets ads towards females between 30 and 40 years of age residing in Oslo and who have studied engineering.”

If Meta does not comply with the Norwegian order, it will have to pay a fine of €100,000 per day.

Advertising professionals point to two future problems: users will still see ads, but probably more often, repeatedly and without any interest in them; and the cost per thousand (a measure of visibility/price effectiveness per 1,000 ad appearances) could skyrocket for Meta’s clients, a particularly problematic issue for SMEs that have few resources to communicate and need to seek maximum visibility and engagement.

Privacy, discrimination, social inequality

The Centre for Digital Democracy in the United States has been warning about ad targeting since at least 2015. At the beginning of October, it published a new warning: “Behavioural advertising is deeply invasive when it comes to privacy, as it involves tracking users online and creating individual profiles based on their behaviour over time and across different platforms and across channels. These practices go beyond individual privacy violations and also harm groups of people, perpetuating or even exacerbating historical discrimination and social inequities.”

The article continues: “The second main reason why many oppose surveillance-based marketing practices is the manipulative nature of commercial messaging that aims to exploit users’ vulnerabilities. This becomes particularly concerning when vulnerable populations, like children, are targeted, as they may not have the ability to resist sophisticated influences on their decision-making. More generally, the behavioural advertising business heavily incentivises companies to optimise their practices for monetising attention and selling audiences to advertisers, leading to many associated harms.”

The American NGO goes on to denounce the methods of--among others--GumGum, which “scans text, image, audio and video to derive human-like understandings.”

This article was first published in French on Paperjam. It has been translated and edited for Delano.