MEPs want EU to tackle abusive online advertising

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

EU citizens must be protected from abusive advertising practices that have emerged on online social networks, forums and blogs, members of the European Parliament said.

The European Parliament's internal market and consumer protection committee adopted this week (8 November) a report on the impact of advertising on consumer behaviour.

Its focus is on protecting consumers from the abuse of new online technologies.

French MEP Philippe Juvin (European People's Party), who is drafting the Parliament's position on the matter, argued that intrusive practices such as behavioural and targeted advertising raise a new set of problems.

These, he added, are insufficiently taken into account by current EU legislation and need to be addressed properly.

Lawmakers sitting on the Parliament's consumer protection committee called on the European Commission to evaluate existing legislation and to update it accordingly.

Data privacy

Juvin stressed that lawmakers want to prohibit certain practices which are particularly intrusive. These include "robots" on Google's Gmail service that are able to scan personal emails for keywords to automatically generate targeted advertisements.

Other controversial techniques to tailor advertising to individual consumers' needs involve retrieving information from social networking sites such as Facebook and "geolocation" services via mobile phones connected to the Internet.

The report argues that such practices constitute "an attack on the protection of privacy when it involves tracking individuals" through cookies or profiling.

Behavioural and hidden advertising

Lawmakers also suggest that new techniques whereby advertisers pose as consumers on Internet forums should be tackled with clearly worded warnings marked "behavioural advertisement".

Policing of different forums by moderators should also be encouraged, as "hidden advertising" may be posted on online forums where consumers post comments about the quality of services, such as hotel rooms.

These, Juvin said, may not only mislead consumers, but can also ruin a company's reputation with just one click.

A Parliament plenary vote on the dossier is scheduled for December.

  • December: Parliament plenary vote on advertising technologies and consumer protection.

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