UK’s ICO Pushes for Increased Transparency around Political Advertising on Social Media Platforms

Not long after the US Federal Election Commission (FEC) stated their intent to review current rules relating to the placement and nature of political advertisements on social media platforms, the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) have revealed their plans to follow suit, seeking an increased level of transparency around such ads and their use of personal data.

Information commissioner Elizabeth Deham said visibility into ad targeting systems is needed so that people can exercise their rights - such as withdrawing consent to their personal data being processed should they wish.

“Data protection is not a back-room, back-office issue anymore,” said Ms Deham. “It is right at the centre of these debates about our democracy, the impact of social media on our lives and the need for these companies to step up and take their responsibilities seriously.

“What I am going to suggest is that there needs to be transparency for the people who are receiving that message, so they can understand how their data was matched up and used to be the audience for the receipt of that message. That is where people are asking for more transparency.”

The aforementioned comments were made by the commissioner during an evidence session in front of a UK parliamentary committee, which has been given the role of investigating the influence of digital advertising and so-called ‘fake news’ on the political process. Ms Deham went on to say during the same address that her office is preparing their own report and accompanying recommendations this spring, expected to be published in May.

“We want more people to participate in our democratic life and democratic institutions, and social media is an important part of that, but we also do not want social media to be a chill in what needs to be the commons, what needs to be available for public debate,” she said.

“We need information that is transparent, otherwise we will push people into little filter bubbles, where they have no idea about what other people are saying and what the other side of the campaign is saying. We want to make sure that social media is used well.

“It has changed dramatically since 2008. The Obama campaign was the first time that there was a lot of use of data analytics and social media in campaigning. It is a good thing, but it needs to be made more transparent, and we need to control and regulate how political campaigning is happening on social media, and the platforms need to do more.”

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