November 29, 2021

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European Commission Clamps Down Hard On Political Ads

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The European Commission has today released new rules on targeted political advertising, restricting how internet users’ personal information can be used.

Organisations using targeting and amplification techniques would need to explain them clearly and in detail, and would be banned from using sensitive personal data without the explicit consent of the individual.

Meanwhile, political ads would have to be clearly labelled as such, and include information such as who paid for them and how much.

“Elections must not be a competition of opaque and non-transparent methods. People must know why they are seeing an ad, who paid for it, how much, what micro-targeting criteria were used,” says vice-president for values and transparency, Vera Jourová.

“New technologies should be tools for emancipation, not for manipulation. This ambitious proposal will bring unprecedented level of transparency to political campaigning and limit the opaque targeting techniques.”

The rules will apply not just to directly political ads, but also to so-called issue-based ads that could influence the outcome of an election or referendum, a legislative or regulatory process or voting behaviour.

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Paid political advertising must be clearly labelled and provide the name of the sponsor – prominently displayed – and an easy-to-find transparency notice with the amount spent on the ad, the sources of the funds used and a link between the advertisement and the relevant election or referendum.

Meanwhile, the use of micro-targeting by using sensitive personal data, such as ethnic origin, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, will be banned unless the user gives explicit consent.

And, for the first time, it will be mandatory to include in the ads a description of on what basis the person is targeted and which groups of individuals were targeted, the criteria used and the amplification tools or methods deployed.

Organisations carrying out political targeting and amplification will need to create and make public an internal policy on the use of such techniques.

The center-right EPP Group, the largest and oldest group in the European Parliament, says it welcomes the new rules.

“Russia, China and other authoritarian regimes spent more than $300 million in 33 countries in order to interfere in democratic processes. This trend is growing more dangerous. Half of these cases concern Russia’s hostile actions in Europe,” it says.

“These cases include the Brexit referendum in the UK, presidential elections in France and in the USA, practical support for far-right and other radical actors across Europe, including in France, Austria, Germany and Italy. Europe cannot and must not allow this any longer.”

The proposals now need to be passed by the European Parliament and ratified by individual member states, but are expected to come into force before the 2024 EU elections.

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