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Political advertising: EU Parliament disagrees on personalised targeting of political messages

European Parliament Freedom, democracy and transparency Press releases

The EU Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee (LIBE) will vote tomorrow at 12:00 to restrict the use of personal data to target online political advertisements to data explicitly provided for this purpose by citizens with their consent, excluding the use of behavioural and inferred intelligence on citizens. Due to a lack of political agreement there will be a separate vote (“COMP12a”) on whether the use of personal data to target political messages at large scale via direct letters, e-mail and text messages will be restricted or not. Patrick Breyer (Pirate Party and Greens/EFA LIBE negotiator) explains:

“The direct messages loophole would be bound to be exploited by anti-democratic and anti-european movements to manipulate elections and referendums by spreading disinformation and hatred tailored to each voter’s personality and weaknesses. Their online behaviour and habits right down to sexual orientation or religious beliefs could be exploited to target manipulative and false political messages, as happened in the Trump and Brexit campaigns. We cannot allow this Regulation to be circumvented by simply moving manipulative Facebook Ads to direct messages.”

COMP12a reads: “When sponsors process personal data for direct targeted political advertising, such as sending targeted electronic mail or text messages, at large scale and on a systematic basis, the restrictions on targeting techniques in this Article and Article 12- shall apply, regardless of whether a service is involved or not.”

While there is political agreement on a so-called recital 47h to this end, the Legal Service has questioned this week whether a recital would be able to override the operative text, and recommends changing it. The targeting rules (Articles 12- and 12) are to apply only where external “political advertising services” are used, thus excluding letters, e-mail and text messages sent directly by campaigns.