New Investigation Launched Into EU’s Microtargeted CSAM Ad Campaign


The European Union’s home affairs commissioner, Ylva Johansson, is facing scrutiny as it is revealed that the Commission is investigating the legality of a microtargeted political ad campaign. The campaign aimed to generate support for a proposed law on scanning child sexual abuse material (CSAM), spearheaded by Johansson. During a committee hearing in the European Parliament, Johansson faced questioning about the ad campaign but avoided providing details.

Key Takeaway

The European Commission is investigating a microtargeted ad campaign that aimed to generate support for a proposed law on scanning child sexual abuse material (CSAM). The campaign’s use of microtargeting based on political and religious beliefs raised concerns about compliance with the Digital Services Act (DSA) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). Commissioner Ylva Johansson admitted the investigation during a committee hearing but declined to provide further details.

DSA and Microtargeting

The investigation centers around the Digital Services Act (DSA), which contains provisions related to online advertising, including the prohibition of using sensitive personal data for targeting ads. The ads in question were run on X (formerly Twitter), which is expected to be compliant with the DSA. The Commission itself proposed the pan-EU law and is responsible for oversight of compliance with the DSA by Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs) such as X.

The Controversial Ad Campaign

The Commission’s ad campaign, which targeted users in several European countries, insinuated that opponents of the proposed CSAM-scanning law did not want to protect children. The campaign used microtargeting to exclude individuals who care about privacy, eurosceptics, and those interested in Christianity. The use of microtargeting based on political and religious beliefs violates X’s advertising policy, the DSA, and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Johansson’s Response

During the committee hearing, Johansson admitted that the investigation is taking place following “new information” related to DSA compliance. She emphasized the importance of compliance with regulations and stated that there would be consequences if the Commission’s ad campaign violated the DSA. However, she declined to provide further details about the campaign, suggesting that it was the responsibility of her “service” to answer.

Commercial Influence and Lobbying Concerns

During the committee hearing, MEPs also raised concerns about commercial lobbying around the CSAM-scanning proposal. A report by investigative journalists highlighted close contacts between companies with CSAM-scanning tools and the selling of these tools. Commissioner Johansson faced criticism for her response to the report, with journalists arguing that the Commission employed “spin-doctor” tactics to discredit the article rather than addressing the concerns raised. Johansson denied that commercial interest influenced the proposal, emphasizing its technology-neutral approach.

The Future of CSAM-Scanning Proposal

The CSAM-scanning proposal has sparked intense debate and concerns about privacy and democratic rights. The European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) warned that the EU could be at a tipping point for freedom and democracy if non-targeted scanning of private messages is implemented. Commissioner Johansson defended her proposal, stating that it would not mean scanning all communication and would be limited compared to the current situation. She also highlighted the need for compliance with existing legislation, such as the GDPR, to ensure respect for fundamental rights.

In light of the investigation into the Commission’s own ad campaign, questions remain about the transparency and legality of the CSAM-scanning proposal. As the debate continues, it is essential to strike a balance between protecting children and upholding privacy and democratic rights.

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