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IPA asks Electoral Commission to pause micro-targeted political ads amid Facebook crisis


By Rebecca Stewart, Trends Editor

April 19, 2018 | 4 min read

The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) has made an official call for the UK Electoral Commission and wider political community to pause micro-targeted political ads online, saying the practice is at times “opaque and unaccountable”.

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The moratorium from the trade body follows on from Facebook's Cambridge Analytica crisis

The trade body's call for a moratorium follows weeks of scrutiny around allegations that data firm Cambridge Analytica accessed the information of 87 million Facebook users in order to influence the US elections and the EU referendum.

The IPA will also be calling for all political creative work – which is not subject to the same stringent ASA guidelines as other ads – to be listed for public display so that “while not regulated” it is transparent and accountable for all members of the public to see should they wish.

The Drum understands that the move from the IPA looks to open the door to discussions with the likes of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and other political allies.

IPA president Sarah Golding, also chief executive at CHI&Partners, said: “Politics relies on the public square – on open, collective debate. We, however, believe micro-targeted political ads circumvent this. Very small numbers of voters can be targeted with specific messages that exist online only briefly. In the absence of regulation, we believe this almost hidden form of political communication is vulnerable to abuse."

She stressed that the IPA wasn’t calling on a “blanket ban” on all digitally targeted ads and that its current request only spanned the political.

She added: “However, in an age where consumer trust has been heavily eroded and the quest for truth and transparency is paramount, we feel it incumbent upon us to call for this moratorium.”

Facebook has issued several updates since Cambridge Analytica reportedly harvested the data of tens of millions of users, including shutting off the use of third-party data targeting for advertisers. It has also notified all users embroiled in the scandal.

The IPA putting pressure on government comes in the midst of the UK government's digital charter – which will be used to agree new norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice – and follows on from several recommendations from the House of Lords that Facebook and Google be investigated for their perceived lack of transparency.

Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg's appeared before US lawmakers in Congress last week. He was also requested to appear before MPs in UK parliament investigating fake news in the coming months, but will instead send Facebook's chief product officer Chris Cox, who will give evidence on his behalf.

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