MEP: Marketing techniques need to respect privacy

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This article is part of our special report Food & Responsible Marketing.

Intrusive marketing practices brought on by the Internet have attracted the attention of the European Parliament, with lawmakers concerned about guaranteeing citizens' privacy, said Philippe Juvin MEP in an interview with EURACTIV.

French MEP Philippe Juvin (European People's Party, France) is a member of the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee and the draftsman of an own-initiative report on 'The impact of advertising on consumer behaviour'.

He was speaking to EURACTIV's Outi Alapekkala.

To read a shortened version of this interview, please click here.  

Referring to your report, how big a role do you think advertising actually plays in consumer choice?

Advertising is a good thing for the internal market – it's very useful and we need modern and efficient advertising to improve the efficiency of the internal market. Nevertheless, it needs to be controlled to be sure that individual rights are respected. That is the aim of this report – to find a good balance between these two aims.

How would you define responsible marketing?

What is modern and good for consumers? Probably marketing that is fair and respects individual rights, including consumers' confidential information. For instance, I think it's absolutely impossible to accept that advertisers could read the content of your personal emails to make advertising. It's absolutely impossible to think that such a thing could be acceptable.

But isn't this the case already? I have witnessed targeted advertising in Google Mail, based on the subject of correspondence.

It is something that is discussed, at least. Personally, I think it's possible that it does exist now.

You are particularly worried about digital media in your report – what about children being targeted through the Internet or other digital tools?

One new way to develop advertising is behavioural advertising – very useful, very efficient advertising. It is so efficient that we need consumers to understand what behavioural advertising is.

Of course, children and other vulnerable people have to be protected against this kind of advertising because they cannot understand this type of advertising. And when they receive very targeted advertising, it is necessary that they understand what it is.

Could you give me an example of targeted advertising for children?

If children receive adverts on their PCs at home about toys or foods because they have been on websites concerning those toys or foods before – they have to be informed that it's not by chance that they receive these advertising emails.

Children cannot understand that – especially for foods and toys. We propose in this report that behavioural advertising towards children [should be] strictly forbidden.

In your report you also mention consumer education – and the European Commission is planning a communication on 'consumer empowerment' in 2012. What can the EU do? Is there a role for industry in consumer education?

Some things have been done in the member states, for example in the UK there is 'Media Smart', which seems a very interesting initiative. In this report, I propose developing such procedures in all other EU member states.

I understand that industry is financing this initiative. Do you feel comfortable with that and do you think it is OK if industry then brands the educational material?

Yes – but it depends on the level of power the industry has in the definition of the message that is delivered through the programme.

For 'Media Smart', I understand that industry gives the money and governments implement the project. Some countries opt to have company logos in the material, some not.

We probably need to work with industry – it's impossible to imagine procedures and tools without the industry, but we have to be aware of dangers of such an association. Industry has a role to play, states too, but the roles are not the same. We have to have a good definition of the level of responsibility of the two actors. But of course, we need the help of the industry.

Is there anything else that can be done at European or national level to improve people's media literacy?

It's a first step to include new media in the question of fair or unfair advertising. This was the main aim of my report. Now I'm waiting for the response of the Commission, which has to propose new measures for unfair advertising on the Internet. Probably, if our proposals are acceptable and useful, we can expect that other countries – including the United States – could join us in having common rules on digital advertising.

There are no such rules at EU level yet, so are you proposing new legislation or to revise existing legislation?

Both – to rework current EU legislation and probably envisage a new one.

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