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Google and marketing industry predictably hostile to proposed surveillance advertising ban

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Google and marketing industry predictably hostile to proposed surveillance advertising ban


The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act (BSAA), was introduced in the House of Representatives on Tuesday by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The bill would no longer allow advertisers to target ads to consumers based on personal information. Two exceptions would be broad, location-based targeting and contextual ads.

Why the legislation was introduced. “Disinformation, discrimination, voter suppression, privacy abuses,” and other harms were cited by California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, the lead sponsor of the bill, as the basis for the legislation forward. 

Privacy search engine DuckDuckGo tweeted its support of the bill, saying that “The collection of your private data to target you w/ads violates your privacy & leads to discrimination, manipulation, & disinformation.”

In short, the lawmakers want to stop allowing advertisers to “exploit” and profit from the data collected from consumers. It’s not clear that this excludes “first-party” data. The text of the bill makes no explicit distinction between data collected voluntarily and data collected by surreptitious tracking.

“An advertising facilitator may not target the dissemination of an advertisement; or knowingly enable an advertiser or a third party to target the dissemination of an advertisement, including by providing the advertiser or third party with (i) a list of individuals or connecteddevices; (ii) contact information of an individual; (iii) a unique identifier that may be used to identify an individual or a connected device; or (iv) other personal information that can be used to identify an individual or a connected device.”

Google’s response. Google’s take was both predictable and apparent from the title of the blog post it published: “The harmful consequences of Congress’s anti-tech bills.” This was in reference to this legislation, as well as other antitrust bills pending in the Senate this week (the American Innovation and Choice Online Act and the Open App Markets Act).

How might all of this impact Google search? The end result would be lower-quality search results, Google said. For example, the company warned that the proposed legislation would prevent it from:

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  • Showing directions from Google Maps in its search results. 
  • Providing answers to urgent questions.
  • Highlighting business information when someone searches for a local business.
  • Integrating its products (e.g., Gmail, Calendar, Docs). 

Why we care. Legislation like this could be a game-changer for every digital marketer. What’s particularly troubling is that, as drafted, it seems to prohibit the use of voluntarily submitted names, addresses or emails for targeting purposes. Whether the bill’s sponsors intend this — whether, indeed, they understand the distinction between first- and third-party data — is hard to know.

Not for the first time in the technology space we see Congress preparing to address a problem that surely exists, but that it seems only faintly to understand.

Read next: Data and privacy concerns grow among consumers

Industry says the bill goes too far. The general consensus seems to be that the bill won’t (or at least shouldn’t) pass in its current state, won’t actually accomplish what lawmakers want, and would have serious consequences for the marketing industry.

Susan Wenograd, VP, performance marketing at Marpipe, said the bill is well-intentioned. However, the idea that the user would have no say in how their personal information is used swings the pendulum widely into the other direction, she noted. 

“It removes personalization from advertising under the assumption users want no tracking,” Wenograd said. “As with many things, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle.”

Marketing strategist Doug R. Thomas of Magniventris, however, seemed more accepting of the overall direction of the legislation: “I’m really not sure of the viability of specifically The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act. I’ll leave it to horse race bettors to wrangle those odds, though. Feasibility notwithstanding, my gut says that this is a statement of the direction display ads are going to be forced to move towards as legislation both in the US and abroad is refined.” He described the bill as “a bellwether for the overall tack of future regulation.”

Additional reporting by Kim Davis.


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