European Data Regulator Asks for Ban on Microtargeting

The European Union privacy regulator asks the EU to tighten its proposed guidelines on advertising, with limits on political ads targeting specific audiences.


Wojciech Wiewiórowski, European Data Protection Supervisor, oversees data protection in the EU. In my opinion, he writes that political advertisements that target a specific target group via so-called ‘microtargeting’ should simply be banned completely. He is thus responding to proposals from the European Parliament this week to curb political advertisements.

The Commission’s proposals revolve around transparency for political advertisements and contain quite a few backdoors to spread propaganda. But, according to Wiewiórowski, that can be a lot stricter. As a result, the headlines for the data regulator are mainly microtargeted advertisements.

Political communication is essential for citizens, political parties and candidates to participate in democratic life. To preserve our democracy, we also need strict rules to combat disinformation, vote manipulation and meddling in our elections. We need to do more if we are to address the risks associated with the use of targeting and political amplification techniques,” the data regulator said.

He mainly focuses on microtargeting, in which a specific group, for example via Facebook or other social media, is presented with certain advertisements. This form of advertising is sometimes associated with manipulation because it can be used, for example, to suppress voters. For example, population groups that are not aligned with a party then receive advertisements to convince them not to vote.

The opinion comes at a time when both the European Commission and the European Parliament are working on proposals around advertising and online transparency. Last week, a proposal from Parliament was already taking a firm stand against targeted advertising. For example, the MPs are asking for stricter rules about targeting people based on information about political beliefs, sexual orientation, ethnic origin or other sensitive data.

The MPs reject a general ban on targeted advertising for adults, and something Wiewiórowski had already asked for. Instead, the European Parliament and the European Council (representing the member states) should meet on the new advertising rules in weeks and months.

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