US privateness, shopper, competitors and civil rights teams urge ban on ‘surveillance promoting’ – TechCrunch

“Big tech platforms intensify hatred, illegal activity, and conspiracy – and feed users increasingly extreme content – because that’s what generates the greatest engagement and profit,” they warn.

“Their own algorithmic tools have improved everything from white supremacist groups and Holocaust denialism to COVID-19 hoaxes, fake opioids, and fake cancer drugs. Echo chambers, radicalization and viral lies are features of these platforms, not bugs – central to the business model. “

The coalition also warns of the impact of surveillance advertising on the traditional news business, noting that falling revenue does more damage to professional journalism when the (real) democracies of the information ecosystem have to thrive.

The potshots are well rehearsed at this point, although it is a great oversimplification to attribute the demise of traditional news to tech giants as well as “giant technology”: aka the industrial upheaval caused by the internet making so much information freely available . However, the dominance of some programmatic giants in the adtech programmatic pipeline clearly doesn’t help. (Australia’s recent legislative response to this issue is too new to assess the implications, but there is a risk that the news media bargaining code will only benefit big media and big technology while nothing against the harms of either industry that benefit from outrage.)

“Facebook and Google’s monopoly power and data collection practices have given them an unfair advantage that allows them to dominate the digital advertising market and generate revenue that once kept local newspapers alive. As Big Tech CEOs get richer, journalists will be laid off, “warns the coalition, adding,” Big tech will continue to incite discrimination, division and deception – even if it fuels targeted violence or forms the basis for insurrection – for as long as it is in their financial interests. “

Amid a series of damages the coalition links to the dominant online ad-based business models of tech giants Facebook and Google, Google is funding what they call “insidious misinformation sites promoting medical jokes, conspiracy theories, extremist content and foreign content propaganda”.

“Banning surveillance advertising would restore transparency and accountability to digital ad placements and severely devalue junk sites that serve as critical infrastructure in the disinformation pipeline,” they argue, adding, “These sites produce an endless drumbeat of made- to-go virus conspiracy theories then backed up by malicious social media influencers and the platforms’ engagement-hungry algorithms – a toxic feedback loop fueled and funded by surveillance advertising. “

Other harms they point out are the public health risks posed by platforms augmenting junk / fake content, such as: B. Conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and misinformation about vaccines. the risk of discrimination from unfairly selective and / or biased ad targeting, such as: B. Job advertisements illegally banning women or ethnic minorities; and the perverse economic incentives for ad platforms to increase extremist / outrageous content in order to encourage user interaction with content and ads, thereby promoting social divisions and promoting partiality as a by-product of the fact that platforms benefit financially from the distribution of more content .

The coalition also argues that the surveillance advertising system “manipulates the small business game” because it embeds platform monopolies – a good counterpoint to tech giants’ defensive claim that spooky ads somehow level the playing field for SMBs against bigger brands.

“While Facebook and Google represent themselves as the lifelines for small businesses, in truth they only charge monopoly rents for access to the digital economy,” they write, arguing that the “surveillance-related stranglehold of the duopoly over the advertising market leaves little behind” guys without leverage or Choice ”- they are open to big tech exploitation.

The current structure of the market – Facebook and Google control nearly 60% of the US advertising market – are thus inhibiting innovation and competition.

“Instead of being a boon for online publishers, surveillance advertising benefits the big tech platforms disproportionately,” it continues. Facebook had $ 84.2 billion in ad revenue in 2020 and Google had $ 134.8 billion in ad revenue from the fraud ”.

The campaign that is being launched is by no means the first to call for a behavioral advertising ban, but given the number of signatories supporting this campaign, it is a sign of the level of momentum developing against a data collection business model that shaped the modern age and allowed some startups to transform themselves into giants that impair society and democracy.

That seems important as U.S. lawmakers are now paying close attention to the major technical implications – and a number of major antitrust cases are actively on the table. Although it was the European data protection authorities that were among the first to raise the alarm about the abusive effects and risks of microtargeting for democratic societies.

Back in 2018, following the abuse of Facebook data and the voter scandal involving Cambridge Analytica, the UK ICO called for an ethical break in the use of online advertising tools for political campaigns – a report entitled “Democracy Disrupted ? ” Personal information and political influence.

It’s no small irony that the same regulator has so far declined to take action against the unlawful use of personal data by the adtech industry – despite the 2019 warning that behavioral advertising is out of control.

The ICO’s continued inaction has likely led to the UK government’s decision that a dedicated unit is required to oversee big tech.

For the past few years, the UK has selected online advertising space for antitrust concerns. According to a market study of digital advertising competition conducted in 2019 by its Competition and Markets Authority, it will set up an anti-competitive regulator to combat the dominance of big tech who reported significant concerns about the power of the adtech duopoly.

Last month, the chief data protection officer of the European Union did not call for a break, but for a ban on targeted advertising based on tracking the digital activities of internet users. He called on the regional legislators to include the lever in a comprehensive reform of the regulations for digital services, including strengthening the accountability of operators.

The European Commission’s proposal had so far avoided moving forward. However, negotiations on the Law on Digital Services and the Law on Digital Markets are ongoing.

Last year, the European Parliament also endorsed a tougher stance on scary ads. Again, the Commission’s framework for combating political online advertisements does not suggest anything so radical – instead, EU lawmakers are pushing for more transparency.

It remains to be seen what U.S. lawmakers will do, but as U.S. civil society organizations band together to reinforce an anti-ad targeting message, pressure is mounting to get rid of the toxic adtech in their own backyard.

In a statement posted on the coalition’s website, Zephyr Teachout, Associate Professor of Law at Fordham Law School, said, “Facebook and Google have tremendous monopoly power combined with the surveillance regimes of authoritarian states and the addiction business model of cigarettes. Congress has extensive powers to regulate its business models and should use them to prohibit them from conducting surveillance advertising. “

“Surveillance advertising has robbed newspapers, magazines and independent writers their livelihoods and turned their jobs into commodities – and all we got for it was a couple of abusive monopolists,” added David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of Ruby on Rails, in another rationale . “This is not good business for society. By banning this practice, we are returning the unique value of writing, audio, and video to the people who create them, not those who sum them up. “

With US government paying attention to adtech, it is interesting to see Google accelerate efforts to replace individual level tracking support with what is known as a “privacy-safe” alternative (FLoC).

The technology proposed via the Privacy Sandbox nevertheless makes it possible to target groups (cohorts) of web users of advertisers, with persistent risks of discrimination, targeting groups at risk and manipulation at the societal level – therefore the legislature has to pay more attention on the details of the “Privacy Sandbox” than on the Google branding.

“In a word, that’s bad for privacy,” warned the EFF and wrote about the proposal as early as 2019. “A herd name would essentially be a behavioral assessment: a tattoo on your digital forehead that gives a brief summary of who you are, what you like, where you go, what you buy, and who you connect with. “

“FLoC is the opposite of privacy protection technology,” he added. “Today trackers follow you on the internet and frolic in the digital shadows to guess what kind of person you might be. In the future of Google, they’ll sit back, relax, and let your browser do the work for them. “

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