1. What are targeted ads?
Targeted ads are a form of online marketing which are directed to a specific audience with specific traits. For example, an ad promoting cars could be shown to people whose user data indicates they are car enthusiasts. It is different to traditional advertising, which reaches a wide audience, because it only reaches certain people and its contents are tailored towards the audience it is targeting.
2. What kind of information counts as ‘sensitive data’?
Sensitive data is a special category of personal data that may be used to infer deeply personal information about a person such as the colour of their skin, sexual orientation, religion, as well as health data.
3. Who wants to use my sensitive data and why?
Certain politicians want to use our sensitive data so they can send unique political ads to us based on our personal characteristics. Each voter has particular issues which matter to them, therefore the message that will convince them to vote for a candidate will vary from person to person. For example, a politician could send Christian users anti-abortion ads, while sending LGBT user profiles ads that are supportive of the LGBT community.
4. How do targeted political ads using sensitive data interfere with my freedom to vote?
On election day, we choose the political candidates who share our vision for the future. For our choice to be effective, we need to know what candidates stand for. But if politicians can say different things to different voters, it becomes hard to know what they really stand for.
Politicians can also use targeted ads to mislead, manipulate, discriminate against or demobilise voters. For example, they can try to discourage people from going to the polls or vote for their opponents. We saw this in the U.S., when the firm Cambridge Analytica sent ads to swing-voters with messages designed to manipulate them to vote for Donald Trump. It also targeted Black Americans with ads, which argued that Hillary Clinton lacked sympathy for Afro-Americans to dissuade them to vote for her.
5. What are the current rules regulating political advertisements and sensitive data in Europe?
Currently, there are no EU-wide rules on political advertising, meaning each EU country is governed by its own set of national laws. But in many EU countries, these laws are too outdated to keep up with the digital age.
However, there are some EU-wide rules which regulate how our personal data can be used and are applicable to advertising. Article 9 of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) says that our sensitive data cannot be processed without our explicit consent, and Article 26(3) of the Digital Services Act (DSA) prohibits the use of sensitive data for targeted online ads.
6. Why is this a ‘hot topic’ in the EU right now?
On June 5th, it is expected that the final trilogue meeting discussing the draft political advertisement law will take place. At this meeting, we expect an informal decision will be made on whether to ban the use of sensitive data for political advertising.
There is also a sense of urgency because the Swedish EU Presidency wants to find a resolution before the end of its term in June and because EU lawmakers would like the new regulation to be in place before the 2024 EU Parliament elections due to take place in June next year.
7. What is a trilogue?
Trilogues are negotiations between the EU Parliament, Commission and the Council and are a standard part of the process for creating EU law. The negotiations happen behind closed-doors and are not publicly accessible, meaning citizens don’t know who said what during the meetings.
The purpose of the trilogue is to allow the lawmakers of each of the three institutions to reach a compromise on the text of the draft legislation.The decisions reached during trilogues are non-binding, meaning the Council and the Parliament need to officially adopt the informal agreement.
8. Who is saying what?
The Commission, with the support of the Council, is trying to create a double standard that would allow political actors to target us using our sensitive data for political advertising, while commerical players would still be banned under the DSA. The Parliament is in favour of banning the use of sensitive data for targeted ads.
9. Why does Liberties want a full ban on the use of sensitive data for political advertising?
Liberties believes that citizens should be able to vote and make informed political choices without being vulnerable to manipulation. There is already a general ban on targeting using sensitive data and we think politicians shouldn’t make an exception just for themselves, when corporations would continue to be banned.
Even if a user’s consent is required before their sensitive data can be used for political advertising, there is still a risk that sneaky tactics will be used to trick people into giving consent without being properly informed. Think of all those annoying pop-up banners asking for your consent to allow cookies and trackers.
10. What happens next? How will signing this petition help?
Liberties goal with our #MyDataMyVote petition is to show lawmakers that the public is aware of the secretive negotiations and invested in the outcome. We hope that if enough people sign the petition, EU lawmakers will ban the use of sensitive data for political ads during the 5th June trilogue. This outcome would be a big win!
If the June 5th trilogue and leads to an informal agreement includes a scenario where sensitive data can be used for political advertising, there is still a chance to persuade the Council and the Parliament to vote against it.
It is also possible that no decision will be reached on June 5th, and that more meetings will be planned during the Spanish EU Presidency.
Sign our #MyDataMyVote petition here.
Further reading on this topic.
Read our Op-Ed in Euronews: Sex, religion and race are advertising taboos, except for power-hungry politicians