European Parliament agrees stricter rules on online political advertising

The EU is set to introduce tighter rules around online political advertising. Negotiators from the European Parliament and member states reached a compromise late on Monday on a law that, among other things, aims to prevent people’s personal data from being used unsolicited to target them with political ads.

With the new regulation, the EU hopes to curb microtargeting. This is a strategy where advertisers target their messages to specific audiences based on analysis of browsing behaviour and personal information that people leave on social media and elsewhere.

Member states and MEPs agree that political advertisers should only be allowed to use personal data with citizens’ explicit consent. The use of certain sensitive data, such as sexual orientation, skin colour or religion, will be banned, as will targeted political ads to minors. 

Clear labelling required

The regulation should also make online political advertising more transparent. Political ads must be labelled, with clear information on who is paying for it, how much and in the context of which election or referendum. There will also be a public database collecting information on political ads. ​ 

“With this agreement, we are putting an end to the era in which social media collect huge amounts of data from voters unsolicited, and often unknowingly, in order to influence their voting behaviour, or worse, to pit groups of people against each other as Cambridge Analytica did,” said Flemish MEP Tom Vandenkendelaere of CD&V, referring to the data company that was discredited for its role in the 2016 US presidential election and the Brexit campaign. 

"We are putting an end to the era in which social media collect huge amounts of data from voters unsolicited, and often unknowingly, in order to influence their voting behaviour"

The EU is also aiming to better protect its democratic process from foreign interference or manipulation. Ads sponsored from third countries will be banned in the three months leading up to elections or referendums. 

Member states and the Parliament still need to formally ratify the agreement. Most of the rules will only enter into force after a transitional phase of 18 months, but it is envisaged that certain principles could take effect before the June 2024 European elections, for instance through the application of the code of conduct on disinformation. 



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