Response to the Commission's call for feedback on the political advertising transparency draft
To improve transparency around political advertising, the European Commission proposed legislation that, among other things, mandates transparency reporting and seeks to curtail targeted advertising. The draft regulation was presented in late 2021. Based on its work on online political advertising, SNV had already participated in the pre-draft consultation and now responded to the Commission’s call for feedback on the draft. The full submission can be accessed here.
Below is the summary, which is also part of the full submission and which highlights strengths and weaknesses of the draft.
The Commission’s legislative proposal contains many important and timely innovations in ensuring political advertising transparency. This, in turn, can contribute to fair and pluralistic political debates and elections in the EU. To further bolster this effort, European lawmakers could and should considerably improve some of the key proposals.
The main strengths of the proposals that should be maintained are:
- The draft takes the view that political advertising is not limited to just electoral periods. It covers many different political advertisers as well as issue ads, thus placing a wide range of political advertising within the scope of the rules. This is also accomplished by including both online and offline ads in the rules. Taken together, this broad view is the right approach and should be maintained in the upcoming negotiations.
- The draft is structured into articles containing a set of transparency rules and principles, and two annexes with specific pieces of information that should be provided to regulators and other external observers. These annexes can be changed faster and more easily than a law. This flexibility is desirable and should be kept because it would ideally allow for a more dynamic review and update of the transparency requirements.
The key improvements that should be implemented are:
- The definition would benefit from clarifications and examples. Especially because of the wide range of different advertisers and advertisements covered, it is imperative to delineate the at times overlapping definitions better.
- For political advertising, the use of highly sensitive personal data (as defined in EU data protection law) and inferred data should be banned without exceptions. The Commission acknowledges the risk of discrimination stemming from the segmentation of the electorate and the delivery of narrowly tailored political ads, but precisely because this is the case, it is not suitable to rely on consent rules.
- The law should provide a framework for determining what good and bad design practices regarding ad disclosures and notice mechanisms are. This could be done in an additional annex. Particularly if the consent option is kept, a ban on deceptive design practices should be considered.
- Regulators and researchers should be able to request data access to all data points mentioned in the draft, not just a selected few.
- The Commission should mandate a cross-platform, real-time political ad repository. This would help citizens and specifically those researching political advertising to understand online ad campaigns better than the combination of suggested rules for single-platform database from the Digital Services Act and this draft.
- Enforcement mechanisms should be streamlined by giving EU-level oversight agencies more powers and/or establishing clearer cooperation guidelines for national authorities.
Dr. Julian Jaursch