Press release | Dec. 3, 2020

Global Witness statement on the European Democracy Action Plan

In response to today's publication of the European Democracy Action Plan, Nienke Palstra, Senior Campaigner in the Digital Threats team at Global Witness said:

“Today’s EU Action Plan takes an important first step towards safeguarding European democracy, promising legislation to protect citizens from the very real harms created by the micro-targeting of political ads. 

“Voter suppression, privacy violations, polarisation and extremism are all enabled by the micro-targeting tools created by Big Tech. Their voluntary attempts to clean up their platforms are too often ad hoc, patchy, and easily reversed — not least during the recent US 2020 elections. 

“The Commission’s proposal for legislation on the transparency of online political content in 2021 must include a clear restriction on the micro-targeting of online political content. Only the broadest methods of targeting political content, such as by voting district, should be allowed. There’s no place for targeting people by race, gender, sexuality or past online behaviour in a healthy democracy. 

“This will be a long road from the Plan to reality, facing one of the most powerful corporate lobby forces in Brussels. If we are to bring political debate fully into the open and ensure EU rules are fit for the digital age, political content should be visible to all.”



Notes to editor:

The Commission reports that 82% of people polled support transparency over micro-targeting of political content. Polling that YouGov carried out on behalf of Global Witness in three US swing states suggests that public support goes further: 

  • 68% of people said that political ads should be seen by everyone.
  • People were also deeply uncomfortable with advertisers being able to target using personal characteristics, such as income (83%), sexuality (80%), voting history (75%), and race (71%). 
Other polls conducted in the US, UK, and Germany have similarly found significant public opposition to political micro-targeting. The UK poll also showed that the more people are aware of how micro-targeting works, the more likely they are to oppose it.