WIRED: This Group Wants to ‘Ban Surveillance Advertising’

March 22, 2021 Media

WHEN THE CEOS of Facebook, Twitter, and Google testify later this week at a House hearing, a number of familiar policy reforms will be on the table. Antitrust. Section 230. Privacy legislation.

A new campaign wants to add another bold idea into the mix: “Ban Surveillance Advertising.” In an open letter posted today, the coalitiondefines surveillance advertising as “the practice of extensively tracking and profiling individuals and groups, and then microtargeting ads at them based on their behavioral history, relationships, and identity.” That business model is at the heart of how Facebook and Google make money. And, the letter argues, it’s harming society. It spurs an arms race for user attention, which in turn incentivizes algorithms that favor polarizing and extreme content and groups. It helps Google and Facebook dominate the market for digital advertising at the expense of the news media. In short, the letter concludes, the surveillance advertising model gives companies a financial motive to build products that “stoke discrimination, division, and delusion.” The letter is signed by 38 groups, including privacy-focused institutions like EPIC, human rights organizations like Avaaz, and antimonopoly groups like the Open Markets Institute—plus the creators of the documentary The Social Dilemma.

Lehrich decided to take aim at surveillance advertising after the assault on the Capitol on January 6, which seemed to confirm many people’s worst fears about the real-world consequences of online discourse. He ran it by Sarah Miller, the executive director of the American Economic Liberties Project and a former member of the Biden administration transition team, who helped refine the idea. The two then reached out to other groups in their networks.