January 26, 2022

Melville House author Carissa Véliz backs new U.S. privacy bill 


Carissa Veliz, author of Privacy is Power

Last week, three U.S. senators introduced a new bill that could curtail Big Tech’s use of targeted advertising. The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act is sponsored by Reps. Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), and backed by a host of public interest organizations, companies, and academics, including Dr. Carissa Véliz. Véliz is the author of the Melville House book Privacy is Power, which was just released in paperback on February 25, 2022. 

Véliz’s support of the bill comes as no surprise—she is an outspoken advocate for stronger privacy laws and ending the data economy. Her book addresses many of the problems that have arisen from the proliferation of surveillance advertising—the below quote is excerpted from a chapter in her book called “Stop Personalized Advertising”:

“The origin of the dark sides of the data economy is in the development of personalized advertising … Personalized ads have normalized hostile uses of tech. They have weaponized marketing by spreading misinformation, and they have shattered and polarized the public sphere. As long as platforms like Facebook use personalized ads, they will remain divisive by exposing us to content that pits us against one another, despite the company’s mission statement to ‘bring the world closer together’.”

From the official press release, the new bill “prohibits advertising networks and facilitators from using personal data to target advertisements, with the exception of broad location targeting to a recognized place, such as a municipality. The bill also prohibits advertisers from targeting ads based on protected class information, such as race, gender, and religion, and personal data purchased from data brokers. The bill makes explicit that contextual advertising, which is advertising based on the content a user is engaging with, is allowable.”

This new legislation could have big consequences for U.S. tech giants who have been able to avoid the sort of regulations that are prevalent in Europe thanks to the EU’s General Data Protection Act that protects personal data and privacy. According to The Verge, should this bill pass, there could be major fines for violating the new data privacy laws: 

“If enacted, the bill would radically change Facebook and Google’s business models … The bill empowers the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general with the authority to enforce the new rules for ad targeting. It also allows individual users to sue platforms like Facebook and Google if they break the law, granting up to $5,000 in relief per violation.”

The bill speaks to growing support for privacy laws in the U.S. It seems likely that if this bill doesn’t pass there will be others to take its place, and that tech companies are aware of this. Last April, Apple made dramatic changes to the iPhone’s privacy features that allowed users to opt-out from having apps track them, seemingly in response to user’s concerns about data privacy. However, this wasn’t a major loss for Apple, as CNBC noted in an article on the financial ramifications of this surprising move:

“While the changes have been marketed as a win for users, they’re also benefitting Apple’s advertising product, Apple Search Ads, which marketers are turning to for mobile ads that drive app installations.”