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EDRi: Ad-tech considered harmful

Critical report on profiling practices and their effect on society

Targeted advertising technology invades our privacy with harmful profiling and contributes to filter bubbles, radicalisation and repressive mass surveillance. With financial support of the NLnet and Vietsch Foundation the European digital rights organization released a guide book how 'ad-tech' works - and what pending European policy can do to prevent its risks for society and online freedom.

The lack of accountability of targeted advertising making a handful of powerful technology companies massive profits is one of the most pressing policy issues today, argue the European umbrella of digital rights organizations EDRi. The new guide book "Targeted Online" points to the significant risks of online tracking to citizens, and explores how upcoming EU law could help prevent unwanted side-effects like the spread of misinformation and online polarization.

Promoting misinformation, discrimination and surveillance

In "Targeted Online" the authors highlight several other problematic issues, such as that unlike in traditional media today's advertising machinery runs ads on extremist and disinformation websites (essentially turning that into a profit-making business), categorizes survivors of sexual abuse and people with mental health issues and shares personal information with state actors which has led to the arrest of vulnerable communities (such as undocumented migrants) as well as surveil religious minorities.

People who want to opt out are left guessing since the options to turn off tracking are hidden away, unnecessarily cumbersome, incomplete or misleadingly give only the impression that privacy is protected. EDRi instead advocates for technology that is private by design, like contextual advertisements. This content can actually be more relevant and profitable for publishers and content creators: the Dutch public broadcaster NPO increased their revenue by 76% after moving from behavioural to contextual advertising.

Upcoming European policies to protect privacy

To ensure that advertisers and service providers make this necessary switch, EDRi along with the European Data Protection Survivor and a broad coalition of European Parliament-members argue for phasing out targeted advertising based on invasive tracking. According to the report, upcoming European policies like the Digital Services Act and the ePrivacy Regulation can be the perfect tools to reconstruct ad-tech so that it serves instead of harms its audience.

Supporting a better internet

NLnet supports the urgent need of EDRi to share knowledge of pervasive surveillance and how upcoming European regulation can prevent exploitative monopolistic practices that polarize online interaction, spread disinformation and put minorities and other vulnerable groups in danger.

How AdTech works is funded jointly by NLnet foundation and Vietsch Foundation. Since 1997 NLnet has supported a wide diversity of efforts to create a better internet. Currently NLnet promotes open calls to develop technologies that improve search and discoverability, provide technical assurances and defend internet security, reliability and scalability.