The EFF Calls on U.S. Policymakers to Ban Online Behavioural Advertising

Bennett Cyphers and Adam Schwartz of the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

Given these severe harms, EFF calls on Congress and the states to ban the targeting of ads to people based on their online behavior. This ban must be narrowly tailored to protect privacy and equity without placing unnecessary burdens on speech and innovation.

Legislators should focus on the personal data most central to targeted ads: our online behavior. This includes the web searches we conduct, the web pages we visit, the mobile apps we use, the digital content we view or create, and the hour we go online. It also includes the ways our online devices document our offline lives, such as our phones using GPS to track our geolocation or fitness trackers monitoring our health.

I see this going nowhere in the real world, but it is a good summary of the harms caused by behaviourally-targeted advertising and a strong call to action. One thing I fail to see in this document is a response for small business owners who have been lured by the possibility of cheap and precise ads. Though I understand why these ads are appreciated by those with limited budgets, I think this entire industry is built on flawed principles. It is not fair for everyone online to be required to forego any sense of privacy so our neighbourhoods can continue to have independently-owned businesses. But there needs to be a better answer.