Coalition of Privacy, Consumer Groups Attacks Targeted Ads

A coalition of 30+ privacy, consumer and anti-monopoly groups launched this week with one purpose in mind: to stop targeted and behavioral advertising, a practice the coalition describes as “surveillance advertising.” In a letter, the coalition said that, “social media giants are eroding our consensus reality and threatening public safety in service of a toxic, extractive business model.” Further, it said, Big Tech acts “to stoke discrimination, division, and delusion.” Facebook and Google are the dominant digital advertising behemoths.

The Hill reports that, at Accountable Tech, one of the coalition’s members, director of partnerships and policy Rishi Bharwani stated that, “what Facebook has tried to describe as personalized advertising really feels like they’re trying to describe it as if they’re doing us a favor, when in reality they are extracting our data, they’re exploiting us and they’re selling us to advertisers.”

American Economic Liberties Project senior adviser Morgan Harper said that surveillance advertising helps Big Tech companies “to entrench their market power that is already quite intense.” A recent Accountable Tech poll found that 81 percent of Americans “would rather keep personal data private even if it meant they would [receive] less relevant ads.”

The coalition also “points to mounting research suggesting that the kind of targeted advertising conducted by big platforms is not even that effective and that its reach is overstated.” To the concern that the absence of targeted ads might “hurt organizations trying to reach vulnerable communities,” Harper countered that the harms “are so great that we think they outweigh the marginal benefit.”

Bharwani reported that the coalition is currently focused on ending surveillance advertising, not what comes afterwards. “As a coalition, we are first and foremost focused on taking the energy that’s out there, both among grassroots individuals and in the anger in the wake of January 6 and demonstrating the power and momentum that’s behind us,” he said.

The coalition letter stated that that these social media companies’ “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,” it said. “And surveillance advertising is further damaging the information ecosystem by starving the traditional news industry, especially local journalism.”

Bloomberg reports that, “the U.S. Supreme Court turned away an appeal by Facebook, refusing to intervene in a lawsuit that accuses the company of violating a federal wiretapping law by secretly tracking the Internet activities of users logged off the social-networking site.” As a result, as determined by a federal appeals court, four Facebook users can “press part of a suit over practices the company used in 2010 and 2011,” seeking class action status and as much as $15 billion.