This Group Wants to ‘Ban Surveillance Advertising’


When the CEOs of Facebook, Twitter, and Google testify later this week at a House listening to, quite a few acquainted coverage reforms can be on the desk. Antitrust. Section 230. Privacy laws.

A brand new marketing campaign desires so as to add one other daring thought into the combination: “Ban Surveillance Advertising.” In an open letter posted as we speak, the coalition defines surveillance promoting as “the practice of extensively tracking and profiling individuals and groups, and then microtargeting ads at them based on their behavioral history, relationships, and identity.” That enterprise mannequin is on the coronary heart of how Facebook and Google generate income. And, the letter argues, it’s harming society. It spurs an arms race for consumer consideration, which in flip incentivizes algorithms that favor polarizing and excessive content material and teams. It helps Google and Facebook dominate the marketplace for digital promoting on the expense of the information media. In quick, the letter concludes, the surveillance promoting mannequin provides firms a monetary motive to construct merchandise that “stoke discrimination, division, and delusion.” The letter is signed by 38 teams, together with privacy-focused establishments like EPIC, human rights organizations like Avaaz, and antimonopoly teams just like the Open Markets Institute—plus the creators of the documentary The Social Dilemma.

Exactly one 12 months in the past, I revealed an article with the considerably cheeky headline, “Why Don’t We Just Ban Targeted Advertising?” At the time, the concept that this observe ought to merely be prohibited was, I wrote, “quietly gaining adherents,” nevertheless it was hardly a motion: a journalist right here, a tech founder there, a couple of legislation professors. The notion was nonetheless in its infancy. 

So much has occurred since then to vary individuals’s attitudes. The Covid pandemic has been accompanied by waves of on-line scams and harmful health-related misinformation. (Remember “America’s Frontline Doctors”?) The racial justice motion sparked by the killing of George Floyd introduced civil rights teams extra deeply into discussions of how hate speech travels on-line. And the viral unfold of conspiracy principle actions like QAnon and “Stop the Steal” confirmed how far the nation has drifted from dwelling in a shared actuality. These issues all level again to the facility of on-line platforms to form America’s (and the world’s) info ecosystem, and the incentives that decide how they wield that energy.

“I was frankly shocked by how much appetite there was for this, and by how receptive folks were to the pitch,” stated Jesse Lehrich, a cofounder of the advocacy group Accountable Tech. According to a January ballot commissioned by Accountable Tech, 81 % of respondents stated they’d be in favor of reforms to “ban companies from collecting people’s personal data and using it to target them with ads.” By distinction, solely 63 % stated they supported breaking apart firms like Facebook and Google, one other concept that has been proposed by lawmakers like Elizabeth Warren.

Lehrich determined to take intention at surveillance promoting after the assault on the Capitol on January 6, which appeared to substantiate many individuals’s worst fears concerning the real-world penalties of on-line discourse. He ran it by Sarah Miller, the chief director of the American Economic Liberties Project and a former member of the Biden administration transition workforce, who helped refine the thought. The two then reached out to different teams of their networks.

The coalition argues that banning surveillance promoting ought to come along with, not on the expense of, different reforms. “We refer to it as this regulated competition approach,” stated Morgan Harper, a senior adviser on the AELP. Competition reforms like structural separations and breakups, she stated, go hand in hand with outlawing troubling enterprise practices. “But if you just rely on the regulation, it can actually serve to entrench the market power of these platforms and not really do anything to improve the competitive landscape.”

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