Science & Technology

Tech companies face hefty fines if they don’t adhere to EU’s new political ads law

In an effort to prevent political ads from undermining elections, the European Union today announced a new law that will create more transparency around such ads.

In a press release, the EU said with the aim of “protecting election integrity and open democratic debate” it will now require that political ads come with a clear label as to who paid for them and also contain information about how much was spent.

“Elections must not be a competition of opaque and non-transparent methods,” said Vera Jourová, vice president for values and transparency. “People must know why they are seeing an ad, who paid for it, how much, what micro-targeting criteria were used. New technologies should be tools for emancipation, not for manipulation. This ambitious proposal will bring an unprecedented level of transparency to political campaigning and limit the opaque targeting techniques.”

The new law will also ban the targeting of ads where “amplification techniques” are employed to reach a wider range of people. That means banning advertising that uses specific personal data, such as a person’s sexual orientation, religious beliefs or ethnicity, without first seeking the person’s permission.

The EU said in some cases such targeting will be allowed, giving the examples of targeting people for their politics, philosophical beliefs, religion, membership to foundation, or trade union, but only when a group is targeting its own members.

It’s now hoped that all 27 member countries of the EU will endorse this law and be enacted in each country by 2023, the year before elections take place all over Europe. If that happens, tech giants such as Meta Platforms Inc. and Google LLC will have to adhere to the law or face the prospect of being fined up to 5% of their global revenue.

Meta, formerly Facebook Inc., has already put some effort into dealing with problematic political ads. In a statement issued to the media about the new law, the company said, “We have long called for EU-wide regulation on political ads and are pleased that the Commission’s proposal addresses some of the more difficult questions, in particular when it comes to cross border advertising.”

In a blog post, Google called the law a “step in the right direction,” although the company said some clarifying needs to be done by the EU.

Photo: Guillaume Périgois/Unsplash

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