Digital Brief: What is a political ad?

The Digital Brief is Euractiv's weekly tech newsletter.

Welcome to EURACTIV’s Digital Brief, your weekly update on all things digital in the EU. You can subscribe to the newsletter here


“We have to be careful in recognising the difference between paid political advertising and political opinions”.

– Commission Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová. 


Platform regulation. Regulation on the activities of online platforms is needed to foster a digital ecosystem that can “defend and promote democracy” the EU’s Vice-President for Values and Transparency Věra Jourová said on Thursday (30 January), referring to measures that could be addressed in the EU’s Democracy Action Plan. However, she noted there could be challenges when addressing the “difference between paid political advertising and political opinions.”

“We are dealing with very precise targeting based on our behaviour,” Jourová told a Brussels conference. “There is a lack of transparency in how content is channelled to us [and] who owns the algorithms.”

At the start of this year, Facebook announced plans to stamp out political manipulation online ahead of the November 2020 US Presidential election, allowing users to turn-off certain ad-targeting tools. However, Facebook’s Meg Chang, public policy manager for elections at Facebook said on Wednesday at an event at the Dutch Permanent Representation to the EU, that the US move won’t be replicated in Europe anytime soon.

5G. 5G security standards are set to be bolstered across the EU, amid fears that non-EU states may be trying to infiltrate the bloc’s next-generation mobile technology networks. The EU has, however, pledged not to exclude any specific suppliers, despite heavy US pressure against the Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei.

As part of the European Commission’s ‘5G toolbox,’ published on Wednesday, the executive has outlined a series of non-binding recommendations that include improving security standards but also establishing a risk profile of suppliers, in addition to adopting a multi-vendor approach.

The toolbox has been fashioned following consultation with EU member states, in which countries assessed risks and identified possible risk-mitigating approaches.

The announcement came on a day when, according to German media reports, the German Federal Foreign Office has been provided with evidence from the US administration that proves Huawei has been working alongside Chinese state security services, according to the German newspaper Handelsblatt.

A day before the EU decision, the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson granted China’s Huawei a limited role in Britain’s future 5G mobile network, a choice that risks damaging relations with the United States which fears China could use the company to steal Western secrets. The move angered US counterparts, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying that the UK could ‘relook’ at its decision.

The UK’s Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan has tried to alleviate the concerns emanating from Washington. She wrote a letter to the House of Lords earlier in the week in which she said that “nothing in the Review’s conclusions affects this country’s ability to share highly sensitive intelligence data over highly secure networks, both within the U.K. and with our partners, including the Five Eyes.”

Expand Austrian 5G network. Economic Minister Margarete Schramböck of the conservative ÖVP says that spreading the 5G mobile network standard throughout Austria will be one of her priorities, reports  Philipp Grüll.  Although the government has already pledged to invest €1 billion in tax money into the expansion, it could be assisted by a conglomerate of companies who announced their €4 billion in contribution to the project, if “investor-friendly conditions” are upheld, according to Thomas Arnoldner, the head of Telekom-Austria which is part of the conglomerate.

Czech 5G Resignation. Head of the Czech Telecommunications Office Jaromír Novák resigned on Monday after the government postponed the auction of 5G frequencies in response to the European Commission raising objections due to competition concerns. Trade and Industry Minister Karel Havlíček admitted that the terms of the auction had to be changed because foreign bidders had expressed no interest, while there was just one bidder from the Czech Republic, reports Aneta Zachová.

US warns Slovenia on 5G security. Robert Strayer, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Cyber and Communications, said that the government and the private sector should take care when choosing the providers of equipment for the development of 5G network and services so that it could protect itself against cyber attacks and data insecurity in a timely fashion. But what did Strayer have to say about China’s plans for 5G expansion? EURACTIV Croatia’s Željko Trkanjec looks into it.

Biometric concerns. There should be “clear criteria” in the future mass-scale rollout of Biometric Identification Systems in the EU, a recently leaked draft of the EU’s Artificial Intelligence strategy seen by EURACTIV reveals.

The document, an update on an earlier leaked version, has also scrapped the idea of a temporary ban on facial recognition technologies in public spaces. The document notes that the lack of information about the use of biometric identification systems prohibits the Commission from making a broad analysis of the implications of this technology, which analyses a person’s physical features for computational purposes.

Meanwhile, Facebook said on Wednesday evening that it had reached a $550 million settlement in principle in the context of a lawsuit which accused the company of illegally collecting and storing biometric data for millions of users without their consent.

Back in Brussels, the Commission’s Vice-President in charge of digital policy, Margrethe Vestager, said that Artificial Intelligence technologies deployed in the public sector should be held to “particularly high standards when it comes to transparency and accountability.”

In addition, the UK government has laid out its own approach to the deployment of Artificial Intelligence within public institutions, highlighting a series of risk-areas that should be addressed, and emphasising that any intelligent systems should be compatible with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and the UK’s 2018 Data Protection Act. In case you missed it, the London Metropolitan Police has announced plans to roll out facial recognition technologies across the region, while the government has also opened a call for evidence on how the government can support the development and secure use of digital identities.

Moreover, as part of wider plans, Reuters reports that the European Union wants to create a single market in data aimed at challenging the dominance of tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, according to a European Commission proposal.

EU Industrial Strategy Leak. In case you missed last week’s disclosure, EURACTIV obtained papers detailing what could be in store with regards to the EU’s future Industry Strategy. On next-generation mobile technologies, the document cites a “strategic European partnership” on research and innovation in the field of “smart networks and services beyond 5G/towards 6G,” which involves member states to reinforce their “European leadership in network technologies.”

Meanwhile, new standards will be introduced for technologies including the “Internet of Things, robotics, nanotechnologies, microelectronics, 5G, high-performance computing, quantum computing, and critical digital and data cloud infrastructure.”

With regards to the EU’s forthcoming Digital Services Act, the bloc’s ambitious plans to regulate the online ecosystem, the document outlines areas likely to face action, including the dissemination of illegal content, lack of transparency in online advertising, and reinforcing regulatory oversight in an effective yet ‘Single-market friendly’ manner.

On the subject of the Digital Services Act, DG Connect’s Claire Bury said earlier this week at a Brussels event that the Commission is “looking at how to make digital markets more contestable” including addressing the possibility of “ex-ante regulation.”

Airbnb crackdown. Two MPs from the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) in Italy tabled a proposal to regulate apartment rentals for short periods of time through online platforms like Airbnb. If the amendment passes, municipalities will be asked to grant specific licences to those who rent more than three rooms to tourists. The number of licences issued per year will be capped, while the length of stays will be limited, EURACTIV’s Gerardo Fortuna reports.

Meanwhile, Airbnb has announced it is backing calls for an EU regulator for digital services to be included in proposals for a Digital Services Act.

Czech Data sold. Czech cybersecurity software company Avast is selling web browsing data of hundreds of millions of people around the world through its subsidiary Jumpshot, a joint investigation by Motherboard and PCMag revealed. But how did Jumpshot react to this? But how did Jumpshot react to this? Aneta Zachová has more.

Kuciak murder data. The data retrieved from the cell phone of Slovakian businessman Marián Kočner, who is accused of ordering the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak, revealed that the Speaker of Parliament Andrej Danko (SNS) was in close contact with Alena Zsuzsová, the woman who is also charged with ordering Kuciak´s murder, Zuzana Gabrižová reports.

Luanda Leaks. Hacker Rui Pinto, who is awaiting trial on charges of alleged hacking and attempted extortion for exposing some of the world’s leading teams as creator of Football Leaks, also delivered a hard drive containing information linked to the case of Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of Angola’s former president, who has been indicted on corruption and money laundering charges, to the Platform for Protection of Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF), report Susana Oliveira and Paulo Agostinho for EURACTIV’s media partner

Digital Serbia. Out of the 7 million population of Serbia, roughly 5 million use digital services on their mobile phones, according to a survey conducted by TMG Insights. Although mostly used by younger people, men and women use digital services equally. The most used service is Viber (77%), followed by Facebook (68%) and Instagram (59%), reports EURACTIV’s Serbia branch.

Smart villages. EURACTIV’s Ondřej Plevák reports this week that modernisation and structural problems are some of the biggest challenges for rural areas across Europe, along with shrinking demographics, urban migration or digital transformation. Smart villages, an increasingly popular concept among EU members, could counter all those negative trends.

Gender quotas in digital. In an interview with EURACTIV Germany’s Philipp Grüll, business IT specialist and former German Green candidate, Laura Sophie Dornheim, spoke about her quest against online hate, her own experience with it, as well as “crowbar” women’s quotas in the tech sector and politics.

European Data Protection Day. Grüll also wrote earlier this week on the goal of European Data Protection Day to raise awareness and promote privacy and data protection best practices. However, according to Julia Kloiber, activist and founder of Superrr Lab, European data protection is deficient and it remains questionable if citizens have the necessary know-how to assert their rights.


On my radar.

The Council’s Horizontal Working Party on Cyber Issues meet tomorrow to discuss the bloc’s recent commitments in the area of 5G.


What else I’m reading this week:

Subscribe to our newsletters


Want to know what's going on in the EU Capitals daily? Subscribe now to our new 9am newsletter.