Estonian MEPs do not support an initiative that seeks to ban online targeted political advertising based on personal information.
Brexit probably serves as the most prominent example of political advertising aimed using personal information of people. The organizers of the Leave campaign spent nearly £3 million on ads meant to engage people based on their social media posts and other personal information. For example, a person who had posted about animals was sent an ad depicting a bull killed in Spain. It is clear that an animal lover does not wish to remain in the same union with such a country.
EU member states have different rules for online political advertising, with debates underway aimed at universal regulation. The European Parliament's Socialists and Democrats alliance has launched a campaign called AdsZuck to ban so-called microtargeted political advertising online. Campaign leader Paul Tang has said that global tech giants have made massive profits selling data on our feelings and preferences to third parties, and that this must end.
European Data Protection Supervisor Wojciech Wiewiórowski said in his comment that strict rules are needed to defend democracy so that voters could not be manipulated with false information and microtargeting.
Kaljurand: Uniform rules necessary
The Estonian Social Democratic Party (SDE) is part of the Socialists and Democrats EP group. SDE MEP Marina Kaljurand is not in favor of a direct ban but feels that regulation is needed.
"The Cambridge Analytica case was a clear sign of how adept media platforms are at using personal information, enticing people to read misinformation or information that suits their interests and make flawed decisions," Kaljurand said.
She said that the matter of political advertising should be reviewed to have common European rules, to make it as clear as possible who ordered the advertising and its target audience. Publishing media platform's algorithms used to target political advertising has also been suggested.
"Facebook publicly said as recently as last week that they are very happy to see people increasingly following news suggested by algorithms as opposed to their own choices," Kaljurand remarked.
Terras: The tendency to ban everything now pathological
European People's Party (EPP), Isamaa MEP Riho Terras said that regulation of targeted political advertising is necessary. He forecasts a major debate in the parliament between proponents and opponents of new technology.
"I find the tendency in the European Parliament to try and ban everything that has to do with information technology to be pathological," Terras said.
The MEP added that it should be realized that it cannot be banned, which is why regulation is needed.
"A direct post based on the user's personal data provides ample opportunity for manipulation. It allows the same political group to send contradicting messages to different people. We know that Brexit had a lot of such manipulation, as did the U.S. [presidential] election etc.," Terras said. "Regulation is needed, absolutely necessary even, while it would not be sensible to ban it outright."
He finds that regulation should happen in cooperation with major tech firms. "They need to realize that if they refuse to play ball, a lot of their advertising business will simply be banned!"
Paet: Activists would like to ban and regulate something nonstop
The Center Party and Reform Party share the same European Parliament group (ALDE). Reform MEP Urmas Paet is convinced that targeted political advertising will not be banned in the near future.
"Rather, it is the wish of a number of activists who would like nothing better than to ban and regulate things all day long. I do not believe it is right!" Paet said.
The MEP does not think it right to intervene and introduce additional restrictions in one particular area.
"If there are no advertising restrictions in other areas, why should there be on social media?" Paet wondered.
He said that no clear line can be drawn between those in favor and those against of the plan based on member state or political affiliation.
"There is a certain generational gap: there are people among politicians for whom the entire internet world and social media are alien and suspicious. Countries that do more in the way of e-services also have fewer such fears compared to their more conservative peers," he added.
Madison: Regulation unnecessary
EKRE member Jaak Madison (Identity and Democracy) said that many candidates have been using targeted advertising for five or ten years, simply not very cleverly.
"Some are better at campaigning than others," he said.
The MEP believes no regulation is necessary as it likely wouldn't work.
"There are more than a few among the European Parliament's 705 delegates who would like to ban advertising altogether or introduce a bunch of restrictions. "I believe it will not bear much fruit as regulating something needs to be practicable. Usually, the more restrictions are introduced through regulation, the more ways to bypass them are invented," Madison offered.
He gave the example of attempts by member states to limit campaign budgets.
"All in all, I see little point in trying to regulate elections campaigns too much as I also do not see who would gain and what," Madison suggested.
The European Parliament hopes to pass draft legislation regulating political advertising online this spring for it to enter into force by the time of 2024 EP elections.
Editor: Marcus Turovski