New polling of regular social media users in Germany and France reveals that 83% of people don’t want their personal data used to target them with political ads and 57% of people don’t want their personal data used to target them with any ads at all, either commercial or political, on digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Google etc.

The new polling, carried out by YouGov on behalf of Global Witness, also shows that people in Germany and France appear deeply uncomfortable with some of the specific ways in which ads can be targeted at them, and said they would not want to be targeted on:

●      Income (87%)

●      Health information (87%)

●      Who they voted for at the last election (84%)

●      Sexual orientation (81%)

●      Religious views (81%)

●      Personal events in their life, e.g. marriage, pregnancy, bereavement (79%)

●      Race or ethnicity (78%)

Similarly, respondents were very uneasy about how they’re tracked across the web by platforms, saying they don’t want ads targeted at them based on:

●      Personal data they’ve shared with the company (83%)

●      Predictions about them based on other people’s data (80%)

●      Behavioural data tracked outside the platform (78%)

●      Behavioural data collected on the platform (75%)

However, these are all routine ways in which personal data is collected and used to target online ads thousands of times a day. These findings undercut claims that users want their ads to be personalised and reveals widespread unease with the data collection and profiling practices that are critical to the Big Tech business model.

Social media platforms and search engines profit by engaging our attention with compelling and sometimes polarising and inflammatory content in order to collect highly personal data, which is used to build detailed profiles of users. Access to these profiles is sold to online advertisers who use them to target individuals with personalised adverts to sell products and influence our beliefs and politics.

All of this happens in the shadows, with people rarely aware of how their data is being collected and used when they go online, and with far too little scrutiny from regulators. Alarmingly, many of these practices probably already breach EU data protection rules.

The Digital Services Act, which is currently before European legislators, will subject social media platforms and the adverts they publish to new transparency and accountability measures. However, none of the public’s concerns revealed by YouGov will be settled by the proposal as it stands.

In response to the findings, Senior Campaigner at Global Witness, Nienke Palstra, said:

At a time when tech companies are under increasing scrutiny from European legislators, this poll sends a clear message that citizens are deeply uneasy about their ad targeting practices, and want them to stop. These findings are a big blow to tech companies, and expose their false argument that people want personalisation at all costs.

The solution is twofold: regulators must enforce rules to protect people’s data rights, and EU policy makers must use the Digital Services Act to restrict unpopular and invasive targeting and   bring full transparency to the opaque world of online advertising.”