EU reaches provisional agreement to regulate political ads in tech

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Big tech companies will have new rules to abide by following a provisional agreement by the European Union (EU) to regulate political targeted ads. The agreement, reached today, has an emphasis on increasing transparency and restricting foreign interference in elections. The move by the EU comes after Norway banned target advertising by Meta Platforms, a ban that was later extended to the entire EU. Meta is the owner of social media platforms Facebook, Instagram, and Threads. The EU’s latest regulations are set to impact Meta and Google, as well as others.

Unlike the earlier ban, the EU’s most recent measure regulates rather than restricts. Amidst concerns of interference in elections by tech companies and advertisers, the EU aims to quench those fears. “The regulation has been drawn up amid concerns about the dangers posed by information manipulation and foreign interference in elections,” the EU said in a press release. “It aims to make it easy for citizens to recognize political ads, understand who is behind them and know whether they have received a targeted advertisement, so that they are better placed to make informed choices.”

The specifics of the new political ad rules

This agreement is centered around political ads. As such, it has a much smaller scope than earlier bans. Essentially, the main goals are transparency and privacy. The new rules dictate that political targeted ads can only be used with consent from the user. Specifically, users must grant permission for political targeted ads. This presumably means that simply granting permission for personalized ads isn’t enough. A company must get permission from the user about political uses for their data specifically. The EU also restricts certain types of data altogether, like data related to racial or ethnic origins.

The more pressing matter might be containing foreign interference. The EU will ban political advertising by third-country clients three months before an election. It will also make the sponsors of advertisers more clear and easier to find. The EU plans to create “a European public repository for online political advertisements to bring together and make publicly available information on all online advertisements and their transparency notices,” per its release. It is unclear whether users would have to seek out this information proactively, or if it would be displayed with the ads.

“The new rules will make it harder for foreign actors to spread disinformation and interfere in our free and democratic processes,” said Sandro Gozi, a member of the EU parliament, in a statement to Reuters.

How these rules will affect big tech companies

It’s important to note that these rules won’t have an immediate impact. This provisional agreement will be refined at a technical level over the coming weeks. After the technicalities are refined, the EU will need to ratify this agreement again. Then, the new rules won’t go into effect until 18 months afterward. However, when the final rules take effect, heavy fines could be levied against violators. Advertisers who offer political targeted ads could be fined up to six percent of their annual turnover for violations.