Google Applauded For Obeying GDPR On Political Ads?

Google has announced that it is ending micro-targeting of political ads. To be honest, it had little choice in Europe.

It had to take action on political advertising, although that does not make its decision to add extra control to the genre any less welcome. Not allowing clearly false statements to be made is a useful block against fake news.

However, ending micro-targeting of individuals by political parties will probably have most of us thinking -- didn't GDPR make that pretty much illegal, anyway?

It could be coincidence, considering that Google was talking mainly about US events, but yesterday Campaign reported on the ICO closed-door meeting with ad-tech companies and privacy campaigners, where Google was said to have promised changes to header bidding.

The tech giant said it would be withholding some content categories that may give away location, such as weather and sporting events. 

Politics did not get a specific mention in the article, based on interviews with attending campaigners, but it is clear that Google is having a long, hard think about what data it allows to be passed on and bid against in its advertising network -- particularly where GDPR requires specific consent to be given by users.

Let's be clear -- if any company does not have explicit, granular, informed consent from a user to pass on information about their location, then it would be breaking the law. 

Which brings us to the aforementioned, vital point. Can anyone here ever remember being asked whether it is OK for a publisher, or some other third party, to process and share their political views with advertisers? I suspect nobody will have their hand raised at this point, and it's a crucial issue.

The wording of the GDPR cannot be any clearer about data related to a person's health, religion, ethnicity, trade union membership and politics.

It needs specific, granular permission to be processed, and that's a rule that probably has most of us thinking, how on earth are the political parties legally targeting us? If they are using pure demographics, then that is obviously fine.

Only they will know whether they have used information on how we have voted in the past, the groups we belong to, the comments we have made on the web and so on. If these have been used, there is a very real question mark over the legality of campaigns under GDPR. 

The move by Google is welcome -- and it now heaps pressure on Facebook to do the decent thing and promise to fact-check advertising copy sent out by the political parties. It could also show up a lack of transparency over its system that users can use to see why they were targeted by a political ad.

At the moment, the service says who paid for an ad and provides demographic details about why someone was targeted -- ie. a male millennial living in London.

To be fair, that could be as far as the targeting goes. However, if there were any other reasons, such as a millennial male who also follows Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party feed and appears to have a wavering vote because they are worried over a specific issue, as membership to a campaigning group would suggest, then that is a very different kettle of fish. 

Google has laid down the gauntlet here and it is time for Facebook to promise the same level of stewardship over its advertising network to act against fake news and micro targeting. 

While praising Google, it has to be said that political micro-targeting always had a massive GDPR question mark against it -- if it involved processing of political data with explicit consent -- but at least the tech giant has put an end to it.

In so doing, the ball is now in Facebook's court.

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