DSA IMCO vote: IAB Europe commends avoidance of a ban on “targeted” ads but warns of overlap and contradictions with existing data protection law

14 December 2021, Brussels, Belgium – IAB Europe issued a cautious welcome to the report approved today by the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO) on the proposed Digital Services Act (DSA).

The IMCO votes mark a critical step in the passage of the DSA ahead of a plenary vote in the Parliament in January and crucial trilogue negotiations among the EU institutions later next year.

While some MEPs in IMCO had called for a ban or harsh restrictions on data-driven advertising, the subsequent debate brought the value of targeting for small and medium enterprises (SMEs), Europe’s media and to consumers themselves into sharp relief. 

Commenting on the IMCO votes, IAB Europe CEO Townsend Feehan said:

We’re pleased that IMCO did not agree to a blanket ban on “targeted ads” which would have done nothing to enhance users’ safety online, including addressing the major societal challenge of online disinformation, and would have had other significant unintended consequences. Data-driven advertising helps smaller publishers and providers of other online services compete with the biggest players and ensures that users have access to a diversity of sources without paying for subscriptions. The value of targeted ads as one of the most useful marketing tools available for SMEs has been well-evidenced, and we must not take away the chance to support these small businesses who fuel our European economy.

Concerns remain about the risk of overlap and contradictions with EU data protection law if some of the language approved today ends up in the DSA. So-called ‘dark patterns’ influencing user choices should be mitigated by the use of existing tools of enforcement, including detailed guidance provided by Data Protection Authorities. We call on the Parliament and the Council to be sensitive to the risk of running into a legal quagmire in the remaining phases of the legislative process. 

We’ll continue to engage with policymakers to ensure there is good appreciation of the strong consumer protections that are already built into the law and of existing industry efforts to enable transparency and choice in relation to the use of personal data for digital advertising and marketing.  

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