In what looks like bad news for adtech giants like Facebook and Google, MEPs in the European Parliament have voted for tougher restrictions on how internet users’ data can be combined for ad targeting purposes — backing a series of amendments to draft legislation that’s set to apply to the most powerful platforms on the web.
The Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) today voted overwhelmingly to support beefed-up consent requirements on the use of personal data for ad targeting within the Digital Markets Act (DMA); and for a complete prohibition on the biggest platforms being able to process the personal data of minors for commercial purposes — such as marketing, profiling or behaviorally targeted ads — to be added to the draft legislation.
The original Commission proposal for the DMA was notably weak in the area of surveillance business models — with the EU’s executive targeting the package of measures at other types of digital market abuse, such as self-preferencing and unfair T&Cs for platform developers, which its central competition authority was more familiar with.
“The text says that a gatekeeper shall, ‘for its own commercial purposes, and the placement of third-party advertising in its own services, refrain from combining personal data for the purpose of delivering targeted or micro-targeted advertising’, except if there is a ‘clear, explicit, renewed, informed consent’, in line with the General Data Protection Regulation,” IMCO writes in a press release. “In particular, personal data of minors shall not be processed for commercial purposes, such as direct marketing, profiling and behaviourally targeted advertising.”
It’s fair to say that adtech giants are masters of manipulating user consent at scale — through the use of techniques like A/B testing and dark pattern design — so beefed-up consent requirements (for adults) aren’t likely to offer as much of a barrier against ad-targeting abuse as the committee seems to think they might.
Although if Facebook was finally forced to offer an actual opt-out of tracking ads that would still be a major win (as it doesn’t currently give users any choice over being surveilled and profiled for ads).
However the stipulation that children should be totally protected from commercial stuff like profiling and behavioral ads is potentially a lot more problematic for the likes of Facebook and Google — given the general lack of robust age assurance across the entire internet.
It suggests that if this partial prohibition makes it into EU law, adtech platforms may end up deciding it’s less legally risky to turn off tracking-based ads altogether (in favor of using alternatives that don’t require processing users’ personal data, such as contextual targeting) versus trying to correctly age-verify their entire user base in order to firewall only minors’ eyeballs from behavioral ads.
At the very least, such a ban could present big (ad)tech with a compliance headache — and more work for their armies of in-house lawyers — though MEPs have not proposed to torpedo their entire surveillance business model at this juncture.
In recent months a number of parliamentarians have been pushing for just that: An outright ban on tracking-based advertising period to be included, as an amendment, to another pan-EU digital regulation that’s yet to be voted …….