The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act of 2022
Technology Policy Brief #63 | By: Mindy Spatt | July 29, 2022
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Internet giants like Google and Facebook are selling our personal data or selling access to the data they collect. The resulting barrage of advertisements are not just annoying, they violate our privacy, perpetuate discrimination and spread misinformation.
But with data sales generating billions for powerful companies that have consistently evaded regulation, this low-key effort is by Sen. Cory Booker and two democratic Congresswomen to stop online tracking is unlikely to be successful.
The targeted ads- here being recast as “surveillance ads” -that are ubiquitous on Facebook, Google and other websites are increasingly zeroing in on us, not just on our shopping habits but on our health, finances, job opportunities and more.
The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act of 2022 (H.R. 6416, S. 3520) wouldn’t stop companies from selling ads and some location data but would ban the retention of personal data and the targeting of ads based on personal characteristics. Contextual advertising, ads related to whatever content the user is browsing, would still be allowed.
The push for this bill along with many other attempts to rein in tech companies comes from advocacy organization Accountable Tech. Their webpage lays out the case for the ban thoroughly and persuasively, with the help of a coalition supporting the effort that includes the Consumer Federation, Public Citizen, Media Justice and many others.
Among the harms cited:
- Spreading misinformation- as we have seen regarding election fraud and COVID cures, for example.
- Promoting discrimination by targeting based on race and income, which can be gleaned from our Internet behavior.
- Aiding and abetting violent extremists as occurred on Jan. 6 at the US Capitol.
- Sale and release of very personal information regarding our health, finances and families.
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- Potential release to law enforcement, now including the potential release of data related on abortion to authorities in states with abortion bans.
- Targeting children- here the coalition cites an investigation by the Guardian and the Danish Broadcasting Corporation that found that “740,000 children under the age of 18 are flagged [by Facebook] as being interested in gambling. Some 940,000 minors are flagged as being interested in alcoholic beverages.”
One of the act’s authors, Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Chair of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, said “Surveillance advertising is at the heart of every exploitative online business model that exacerbates manipulation, discrimination, misinformation, extremism, and fundamentally violates people’s privacy in ways they would never choose if given a true choice.”
The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act will put a stop to this repulsive practice and therefore protect consumers by removing the financial incentive for companies to exploit consumers’ personal information….”
The tech and advertising industries predictably oppose the bill, but don’t appear to be overly concerned. It was introduced on January 18 of this year and there has been no action on it since then, nor does accountabletech.org show any advocacy or press coverage since that date.
Most commentators agree the legislation doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing, and is at best a message to big tech that Congress is watching and concerned.
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According to Influencewatch.org , Accountable Tech is “a left-of-center nonprofit that advocates for expanded government regulation of social media platforms, [and] conducts pressure campaigns calling for online platforms to censor conservative content creators …..created in 2020 as a fiscally sponsored project of the North Fund, a “dark money” 501(c)(4) nonprofit that operates as a wing of the Arabella Advisors network.”