EU to issue major clampdown on political ads across Europe in fresh blow to tech giants

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The EU Commission will reveal new proposals on Thursday in a bid to force Facebook, Google and political parties across the bloc to follow new rules on political ads or face hefty fines.

European Commission Vice President Věra Jourová, who will announce the proposals, told the European Business Summit last week: “I am really convinced that microtargeting, based on race, religion, sexual orientation and several other sensitive data, gains of data should be banned.”

The rules will force social media platforms to ban the use of political ads based on sensitive data like gender or sexual orientation to target small groups of voters.

So-called micro targeting will therefore become illegal.

The rules will still have to go through the European Parliament and later be approved by EU member states’ governments but officials believe they could become law ahead of the 2024 EU elections.

The announcement will come just days after a key committee of MEPs on Tuesday agreed to tougher laws targeting Amazon, Apple, Alphabet unit Google and Facebook, earning a thumbs-up from EU antitrust chief and architect of the idea Margrethe Vestager.

Frustrated by the slow pace of antitrust investigations, Vestager late last year proposed the Digital Markets Act (DMA), which sets out a list of dos and don’ts for U.S. tech giants designated as online gatekeepers.

Gatekeepers are companies with at least 8 billion euros ($9 billion) in European turnover and an 80 billion euro market capitalisation.

The rules need to be thrashed out with the European Parliament and EU countries before they can be adopted.

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A Parliamentary committee, drafting lawmakers’ negotiating position on the issue, voted for a tougher line that could also see travel website, China’s Alibaba and online retailer Zalando classified as gatekeepers.

The group also extended the scope of the DMA to web browsers, virtual assistants and connected TV, from Vestager’s list of online intermediation services, social networks, search engines, operating systems, online advertising services, cloud computing and video-sharing services.

It also wants to empower the European Commission to temporarily halt so-called killer acquisitions by gatekeepers, or takeovers aimed at shutting down nascent rivals.

Targeted advertising would be allowed with the consent of users, but banned for minors.

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Breaches of the rules would result in fines of between 4 percent to 20 percent of a company’s global turnover, compared with Vestager’s proposed 10 percent.

Vestager tweeted: “Great news! Today’s @EP_SingleMarket vote brings us one step closer to the DMA’s adoption. One step closer to a free, fair and competitive Tech market where all players stand a chance to make it.”

MEP Andreas Schwab said: “We do not want bigger companies getting bigger and bigger without getting any better and at the expense of consumers and the European economy.”

Tech lobbying group CCIA warned of one-size-fits-all legislation.

Its competition lawyer Kayvan Hazemi-Jebelli said: “The lack of any impact assessment of the Parliament’s amendments take the DMA deeper into unknown territory creating significant risks of unintended consequences for Europe’s digital economy.”

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