It will take time and determination to force change in data collection practices — nevertheless, it’s an issue worth fighting for

The Avast team has been interested to learn about a recent proposal put forth by politicians in the US House of Representatives which calls for an end to targeted advertising, AKA surveillance advertising. We suggested this very same thing last year in an earlier blog post. This would stop advertisers from serving targeted ads to users, so many consumers would no longer feel as if they are being watched while they browse online.

There are some exceptions to this — for example, if you’re on a website reading about canoes, then you could be served ads for buying canoes, paddles, and the like. You would only see those ads on the website where you read about canoes, though, so they wouldn’t follow you around to Facebook or other websites.

The rationale for this legislation is that by currently allowing surveillance advertising we are incentivizing companies to collect and hoard information on their consumers as well as potential consumers to enable them to serve target ads, and if it were outlawed companies would weaken that incentive. One of the problems with companies collecting data on people is that these same companies are frequently breached and sensitive consumer data is leaked online. The practice can also lead to privacy abuses and discrimination. This would cause a massive change to the business models of giant tech companies like Alphabet (Google) and Meta (Facebook). While current legislation shields technology companies from liability, this proposed legislation would allow individuals to sue them for up to $5,000 per violation.

It remains to be seen if this proposal will be passed into law. The tech companies spend millions of dollars lobbying politicians and will undoubtedly try to shape this proposed legislation to be more favorable to them, or alternatively, to kill it outright.

In my opinion, this is somewhat unlikely to pass, despite the growing demand to reign in these companies through greater regulation. Just like with regulations on Big Tobacco and the fossil fuel industries, it’s likely to take a great deal of time and effort before serious legislation is passed and put into effect.

A Facebook whistleblower brought increased scrutiny to Meta and how it has put generating profits above the welfare of its users. Alphabet was recently sued by the Justice Department in the United States for giving preferential treatment in its search algorithms. We’re hopeful that the momentum continues and politicians push through meaningful legislation to regulate these companies because they have such a large impact on our lives.

As an individual, what can you do to help meaningful legislation get passed?

First off, let your elected officials know that you support the regulation of big tech companies. You can also directly let companies know that you do not approve of them collecting hordes of personal data and avoid doing business with known bad actors. This would also involve becoming a more educated consumer regarding companies’ data collection practices, which are often unclear. Luckily, there are groups like the EFF focused on these types of issues.

It will take a lot of time and determination to force a change in these companies, as they have become immensely profitable with their current business model. Nevertheless, it is unquestionably something worth fighting for.


Further reading:
An update on data privacy and protection legislation

Garry Kasparov and Ondrej Vlcek on taking back control of the internet
Avast commits to protecting digital freedom for everyone



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