Democratic lawmakers are readying a bill to ban “surveillance advertising,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-California) said Thursday at a House hearing.
“Your algorithms use unseemly amounts of data to keep users on your platform, because that leads to more ad revenue,” Eshoo told Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the hearing, “Disinformation Nation: Social Media's Role in Promoting Extremism and Disinformation.”
“Your model has a cost to society. The most engaging posts are often those that induce fear, anxiety, anger and that includes deadly, deadly misinformation,” Eshoo continued.
“This is dangerous and it's why Representative Schakowsky and I are doing a bill that is going to ban this business model of surveillance advertising,” referring to Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois.
News of the upcoming bill comes the same week dozens of advocacy groups called for a ban on surveillance advertising, which they described as “the practice of extensively tracking and profiling individuals and groups, and then microtargeting ads at them based on their behavioral history, relationships, and identity.”
While that definition of surveillance advertising could cover ad techniques used by numerous companies, the advocates are clearly taking aim at Google and Facebook.
“Social media giants are eroding our consensus reality and threatening public safety in service of a toxic, extractive business model,” the organizations calling for the crackdown said in an open letter posted Monday.
The groups added that “surveillance advertising” has harmed traditional the traditional news industry.
“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,” the organizations wrote this week.
Signatories to the open letter include longtime privacy advocates like the Center for Digital Democracy, consumer watchdogs like Public Citizen and Fight for the Future, and critics of Big Tech like Accountable Tech, the American Economic Liberties Project (which advocates for antitrust enforcement) and The Real Facebook Oversight Board.
Despite the groups' obvious goal of clamping down on Facebook and Google, it's hard to envision legislation that would prohibit only Big Tech from using targeted advertising techniques, but allow large newspapers or other digital companies to deploy programmatic ads.
What's more, even if such a law were to be enacted, it wouldn't necessarily eliminate social media platforms' incentives to keep people on their sites. After all, web companies can still garner significant revenue by serving ads that don't draw on consumers' personal data -- which means Facebook and Google will still have reason to make their services as addictive as possible.