New Bill Would Ban 'Surveillance' Ads

Capitol Hill
(Image credit: Architect of the Capitol)

A trio of Democratic legislators has introduced a bill that would ban the use of personal information to target most online advertising.

The bill defines that personal information broadly, saying it comprises "data linked or reasonably linkable to an individual or connected device, including inferred and derived data, contents of communications, internet browsing history, and advertising identifiers."

The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act was introduced Tuesday (January 18) by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.).

Also: FTC Ponders Rules on Data Privacy

The bill prohibits advertisers or third parties from using personal data for most targeted advertising, the exceptions being ones that use broad location targeting to, say, a specific city.

The bill would prevent any targeting of ads based on race, gender, religion or any personal data purchased from data brokers.

It would not prohibit so-called "contextual advertising," which are ads relevant to content a user is engaging with.

Eshoo said the bill was aimed at the "unseemly collection and hoarding of personal data" for targeting ads, calling it a pernicious practice that fuels disinformation, voter suppression, discrimination and more.

"With the introduction of the Ban Surveillance Advertising Act, advertisers will be forced to stop exploiting individuals’ online behavior for profits and our communities will be safer as a result," said Booker. 

"ANA strongly disagrees with the new bills introduced by Congresswoman Eshoo and Senator Booker that would unreasonably restrain American businesses from using responsible, data-driven advertising to connect with consumers," said the Association of National Advertisers' government affairs office in a statement. "Study after study – as well as consumers’ own statements and responses to ads – show that data-driven advertising yields significant benefits for consumers, businesses and the US economy in general.  Access to information provided by such advertising helps consumers to make informed choices among products and services; consumers understand, desire and value relevant ads.  Data-driven advertising enables businesses to engage more efficiently with their customers and contributes significantly to the overall US GDP.  Furthermore, data-driven advertising supports free and low-cost online content and services and allows the Internet to remain open and accessible to all.  The bills would eliminate these benefits.  We also have great concerns about the constitutionality of the bills, as they appear to encroach on First Amendment free speech protections, and the private right of action lawsuit provision in the bills could lead to excessive and costly litigation.

"The sponsors base their bills on the fact that consumers don’t have a choice about these ads; but they do.  Consumers have various means by which they can control interest-based advertising, including opting out of the practice if they wish. ANA will continue its efforts to promote advertising that is helpful to consumers and businesses alike.  Rather than pursuing this flawed legislation, we urge Members of Congress to focus on passing a national privacy law to eliminate the inconsistent and burdensome requirements being adopted by states that leave consumers with varying degrees of protection depending upon where they live, and that pose great financial costs on businesses." 

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.