Tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Google have been condemned for their lack of transparency over political advertising, which it is claimed is leaving users in the dark over how and why they are being targeted on social media platforms.
According to a report by Privacy International, the three companies have taken a "blatantly fragmented approach" to providing users with political ad transparency, with most users around the world lacking meaningful insight into how ads are being targeted through these platforms.
The report claims that Facebook provides "heightened transparency" for political ads in just 35 countries (17% of the countries in the world). This means that for 83% of the countries in the world, the company does not require political advertisers to become authorised, for political ads to carry disclosures, or for ads to be archived.
Meanwhile, Google provides heightened transparency for political ads in just 30 countries (roughly 15% of the countries in the world) and Twitter provides heightened transparency for ads tied to specific elections (rather than political ads more generally) in 32 countries (roughly 16% of the countries in the world).
To illustrate an example of improper transparency, Privacy International cites a Twitter ad for the Brexit Party that ran in the UK last month, without being marked as political, and consequently provided no targeting information. The ad has since been deleted, but Twitter has not responded to Privacy International’s criticism.
Facebook said it has improved transparency on its eponymous platform and Instagram, which it also owns, as a means of reigning in political advertising.
Meanwhile, Google has admitted there is "more work to be done". A spokesman said: "We’re looking at ways to bring more political ads transparency to more regions and more types of elections.”
Social media providers, as well as other influential Internet companies, have been increasingly open to sharing information concerning political advertising due to the scrutiny that followed the alleged exploitation of social media platforms to target US voters in the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook, Twitter, and Google have even compiled political ads into searchable online libraries in an attempt to increase transparency. However, Privacy International claims these have been poorly maintained and only provide broad information on ad targeting rather than meaningful insight into processes like micro-targeting.
Privacy International spokeswoman Sara Nelson said: “Companies that rely on people’s data to establish their market dominance should give all users heightened ad transparency, and transparency into the targeting and funding of ads should be meaningful."