Dozens of Advocacy Groups Launch Coalition to Ban Surveillance Advertising
Washington, D.C. — On Monday, more than three dozen national and international non-profit organizations – whose advocacy spans from antitrust, corporate accountability, and consumer protection to privacy, civil rights, and counter-disinformation – launched a coalition to ban surveillance advertising.
In advance of Thursday’s House Energy and Commerce hearing with tech CEOs, this sweeping coalition, co-organized by Accountable Tech and the American Economic Liberties Project, issued a bold call-to-action aimed at upending the extractive profit model underlying so many of Big Tech’s worst behaviors. The coalition rolled out with a website highlighting the litany of harms driven by social media giants’ surveillance advertising business, including an explainer video, research, polling, and the following joint statement:
As leaders across a broad range of issues and industries, we are united in our concern for the safety of our communities and the health of democracy. Social media giants are eroding our consensus reality and threatening public safety in service of a toxic, extractive business model. That’s why we’re joining forces in an effort to ban surveillance advertising.
Surveillance advertising – the core profit-driver for gatekeepers like Facebook and Google, as well as adtech middlemen – is the practice of extensively tracking and profiling individuals and groups, and then microtargeting ads at them based on their behavioral history, relationships, and identity.
These dominant firms curate the content each person sees on their platforms using those dossiers – not just the ads, but newsfeeds, recommendations, trends, and so forth – to keep each user hooked, so they can be served more ads and mined for more data.
Big Tech platforms amplify hate, illegal activities, and conspiracism – and feed users increasingly extreme content – because that’s what generates the most engagement and profit. Their own algorithmic tools have boosted everything from white supremacist groups and Holocaust denialism to COVID-19 hoaxes, counterfeit opioids and fake cancer cures. Echo chambers, radicalization, and viral lies are features of these platforms, not bugs—central to the business model.
And surveillance advertising is further damaging the information ecosystem by starving the traditional news industry, especially local journalism. Facebook and Google’s monopoly power and data harvesting practices have given them an unfair advantage, allowing them to dominate the digital advertising market, siphoning up revenue that once kept local newspapers afloat. So while Big Tech CEOs get richer, journalists get laid off.
Big Tech will continue to stoke discrimination, division, and delusion – even if it fuels targeted violence or lays the groundwork for an insurrection – so long as it’s in their financial interest.
There is no silver bullet to remedy this crisis – and the members of this coalition will continue to pursue a range of different policy approaches, from comprehensive privacy legislation to reforming our antitrust laws and liability standards.
But here’s one thing we all agree on: It’s time to ban surveillance advertising.
Action Center on Race & the Economy (ACRE)
Alliance to Counter Crime Online
American Economic Liberties Project
Artist Rights Alliance
Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood
Center for Countering Digital Hate
Center for Digital Democracy
Center for Humane Tech
Common Sense Media
Consumer Federation of America
Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)
Fair Vote UK
Fight Corporate Monopolies
Fight For The Future
Free Speech For The People
Global Action Plan
Guns Down America
Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD)
Liberation in a Generation
Media Matters For America
Open MIC (Open Media and Information Companies Initiative)
Open Markets Institute
Social Security Works
Tech Transparency Project
The Real Facebook Oversight Board
The Social Dilemma
This coalition will continue to act, both as a united front and as individual members, to advance our joint goal via all possible routes – from grassroots mobilization and corporate pressure to support for legislative and regulatory actions in the U.S. and abroad.