EU Meta Ban: Why Behavioural Advertising Continues To Be Controversial

We Are Rabbits Site Icon

As Meta Platforms Inc. is set to be hit by a Europe-wide ban on utilising user-data this week, we ask why behavioural advertising continues to be so controversial. 

The curbs — green-lit on Oct. 27 by a regulatory panel responsible for enforcing data privacy rules across the region — will build on temporary measures already in place in Norway. Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, Meta’s lead privacy watchdog in the region, now has two weeks “to impose a ban on the processing of personal data for behavioral advertising on the legal bases of contract and legitimate interest,” (Greet Gysen, a spokeswoman for the European Data Protection Board) reported Bloomberg. And this isn’t anything new for the social media giant, in August, Meta was slapped with a 1 million Krone ($90,000) daily fine, for failing to comply with a previous ban. So what keeps landing Meta in hot water? What is it about using user data to target ads that’s so worrying for the regulators? Let’s break it down. 

Privacy Concerns

One of the primary reasons behavioural advertising is controversial is the substantial invasion of user privacy.  Most internet users would be shocked to find out the extent of the data behavioural advertisers like Meta hold on them. From browsing history and search queries, to location and demographic data, they really have got it all. And we’ve all been there. That almost spooky moment when you’re served an ad about something you were just talking about, or even thinking about. With their every online move being tracked, and the line between targeted advertising and surveillance blurred, users can feel unsettled and confused. 

Data Security Risks

And personal feelings aside, the vast amounts of user data collected for behavioral advertising poses a serious risk to users. Storing and transmitting this data creates opportunities for data breaches and cyberattacks, putting users at risk of identity theft and other security threats. 

Vulnerable Audience Targeting:

Now misinformation is nothing new in the digisphere, but most would be horrified to know behavioural advertising is also part of the problem. Target ads can sometimes reach vulnerable or impressionable individuals with specific content. This raises ethical concerns, especially when harmful products or misinformation are involved with these groups, making the potential for exploitation a real worry. The creation of user profiles for advertising purposes can inadvertently lead to discriminatory or biased outcomes. Poorly designed algorithms may discriminate against certain groups based on factors like age, gender, race, or socioeconomic status; scenarios more nuanced traditional advertising works hard to avoid. 

What Can Be Done? 

Well to return to Meta for a moment, it’s all about consent, putting the decision back into the user’s control. But while digital platforms may offer opt-out options, they are not always straightforward or effective. Users often find it difficult to opt out of behavioural advertising entirely, leading to frustration for those seeking to protect their privacy. In response to this Meta announced it would offer users in Europe ad-free access to Facebook and Instagram for a subscription starting in November. But does this really address concerns across the region about data privacy? It feels like this ‘pay for no-display’ ad model is an attempt to close down the debate on individual user’s rights. Regulators are still scrutinising whether the plan would satisfy their concerns. Watch this space… 

You might also find this interesting