News Media Europe

DSA Series #5 – Online advertising

Blog , October 6, 2020

News Media Europe prepared a comprehensive response to the public consultation on the Digital Services Act (DSA) (full document). Today, we share views on emerging issues in online advertising. Our full contribution includes reflections on transparency in commercial communications, political advertising, the advertising technology sector and the use of personal data in advertising. 

There is absolutely no doubt that advertisement should be identifiable as advertisement, whether that is on paper or in a digital format. EU legislation already ensures in several ways that “commercial communications” should be identifiable as such.

It is indeed necessary to ensure that audiences are able to correctly identify who is communicating with them through online advertising, and who is paying for the ads that are being delivered to them, so that a safe and trusted online space is fostered.

With such concerns borne in mind, the news media industry continues to be very supportive of self-regulatory initiatives in advertising. We and our members work together with self-regulatory organisations at European and national level to ensure that problems identified by all stakeholders can be addressed in a good manner.

When it comes to political advertising, we find that this issue has received significant attention in recent years. There have been suggestions that the EU should seek to further regulate such advertising, notably based on the understanding that what is illegal offline, should also be illegal online.

Much of the discussion on political advertising follows from growing concerns about disinformation, election interference and large-scale manipulation taking place in the ecosystems of powerful online platforms.

Often, however, such political ads that are cause for concern are enabled by the mismanagement of citizens’ data by large online platforms, who continue to face little to no accountability for their role and lack of transparency.

We therefore suggest that possible additional regulation should be targeted and limited in scope so as not to adversely impact editorial media that is already regulated (eg. print, journalistic outlets online, radio and tv).

In fact, more traditional forms of media such as print and broadcasters are in most EU countries, in one form or another, already covered by relevant legislation and laws that apply to political advertisement, notably through electoral law.

We therefore wish to avoid conflict with or overburdening existing systems that may already be functional, with additional regulation that could have the adverse effect of undermining existing measures or overburdening editorial media.

Another important area for policy makers to consider relates to the ad-tech and broader third-party ecosystem that characterises online advertising. This ecosystem is important for news publishers because it allows news organisations to monetise content without having in-house knowledge and expertise. This is particularly useful for smaller publishers.

Working with third parties to form an online advertising supply-chain, however, also means that news organisations are only partially in control of the supply-chain. This loss of control is not inherently harmful but poses challenges in the digital environment in the absence of an appropriate framework for collective responsible behaviour.

As industry best practice and norms evolve, auditing practices are becoming more common place and accepted. However, not all market participants, least of which large online platforms, and in particular Google who maintains an extremely strong presence throughout the advertising market, are willing to accept to be transparently audited. Regulation may therefore be needed to ensure the use of audits.

An immediate practical approach could be to encourage the development of a self-regulatory system of transparent receipting and billing, enabling buyers and sellers of advertising inventory to better understand the underlying financial dealings that drive the distribution of profits along the online advertising value chain.

The importance of conducting audits cannot be understated. There are concerns associated with competition law, consumer protection, data protection, privacy protection, disinformation, other forms of harmful content, and other illegal or bad ads. These areas of concern warrant access to all participants in the supply chain to ensure better control by first parties and to safeguard the interests of legitimate businesses and consumers alike.