On Tuesday, Democrats introduced a new bill that would ban nearly all use of digital advertising targeting on ad markets hosted by platforms like Facebook, Google, and other data brokers.
The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act – sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) – prohibits digital advertisers from targeting any ads to users. It makes some small exceptions, like allowing for “broad” location-based targeting. Contextual advertising, like ads that are specifically matched to online content, would be allowed.
“The ‘surveillance advertising’ business model is premised on the unseemly collection and hoarding of personal data to enable ad targeting,” Eshoo, the bill’s lead sponsor, said in a Tuesday statement. “This pernicious practice allows online platforms to chase user engagement at great cost to our society, and it fuels disinformation, discrimination, voter suppression, privacy abuses, and so many other harms. The surveillance advertising business model is broken.”
If enacted, the bill would radically change Facebook and Google’s business models. For years, lawmakers have debated ways to regulate the tech industry on issues like privacy, disinformation, and content moderation. Eshoo and her co-sponsors argue that the tech industry’s current advertising models incentivize the spread of harmful content and encourage them to amplify damaging posts to keep users on their platforms.
The bill empowers the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general with the authority to enforce the new rules for ad targeting. It also allows individual users to sue platforms like Facebook and Google if they break the law, granting up to $5,000 in relief per violation.
“Surveillance advertising is a predatory and invasive practice,” Sen. Booker said in a statement on Tuesday. “The hoarding of people’s personal data not only abuses privacy, but also drives the spread of misinformation, domestic extremism, racial division, and violence.”
Since Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen testified before Congress last year, lawmakers have put out a number of new bills to regulate social media algorithms to address the spread of harmful content. Last October, House Democrats unveiled a measure that would strip away a platform’s Section 230 liability protections if their algorithms were found to have recommended harmful content to users.
At Haugen’s first Senate hearing, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said the leaks confirm “that Facebook routinely puts profits ahead of kids’ online safety.” He continued, “we know it chooses the growth of its products over the well-being of our children.”