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When There’s an Election, Big Tech is Their Friend

Many Danish politicians have been using social media in their political campaigns to get a seat in parliament. Part of it is illegal, all of it unethical.

Some politicians disregard the law and ethics to win votes. They are rapidly using voter monitoring and micro-profiling services to effectively place targeted political messages to Danes.

In the previous decade, the Cambridge Analytica scandal revealed that Facebook’s advertising system could be abused to target political messages. It was called manipulative and subversive of democracy, and there are not quite the same possibilities anymore. But at least two parties, Liberal Alliance and New Liberals, are using Facebook illegally, according to tech media Radar. The general use of Facebook for political advertising, which almost all politicians exploit, could also be called unethical, because many people do not understand what Facebook does with data. Moreover, it is strange that political advertising is not allowed on flow TV, but on social media such as Facebook. Both Politiken and MediaWatch have criticised Alex Vanopslagh, who is a TikTok idol in this years election, was recently critised for advertising on Tv3+ via foreign countries.

But when he does the same on TikTok, the criticism was absent.

Then we have the tech-website Version2, which has mapped the parliamentary parties’ websites for use of another questionable tool, Google Analytics, GA. It is generally illegal to use according to the Danish Data Protection Agency, but nine parties use it, two of them illegally without obtaining consent, writes Version2.

And how data ethical is it to use GA when there are fully legal European alternatives?

Would love to see more media confront politicians with these double-standards and lack of walking the talk. Politicians love to criticise big tech, they are forming one committee after another to find solutions on how to make big tech behave democratically, but at the same time they are deeply dependent on them and support them by using them – both by using them but also by pouring camping money into them. As Markedsføring has described, the parliamentary parties have thrown almost millions into Facebook advertising in the last three months leading up to the elections.

There are probably several reasons why the national media do not cover tech critically in the run-up to the elections.

  • Many of them are themselves big fans of both GA and Facebook
  • Those who cover politics often don’t understand a thing about it, and are mostly turned on by the ‘real’ political stories
  • The media prefers to cover things once the damage is done. Just as they came late to the fight for climate, they are also coming late to the fight against surveillance technology.

This is why Danish politicians are unfortunately allowed to cut resources to the Data Protection Agency, which has otherwise come more and more in line with other European data protection agencies in enforcing our laws in the last few years. And it has also started to provide guidance, for example in a new guide the Data Protection Agency has spelled out what you are allowed to do when it comes to choosing and using social media during elections. I think that speaks for itself (translated with

“If a party wants to use social media during an election campaign, there are a number of rules in the GDPR that the party has to deal with. Among other things, the party must understand the conditions provided by the social media and the party must ensure that there is a clear division of responsibilities between the party and the social media in relation to the protection of voters’ data. If there is not – or if the party is otherwise unsure whether data protection rules can be respected when using the social media – they should not use the platform.”

And then the watchdog adds that even if it is legal, it may not be data ethical to use social media:

“While in some cases it may be within the scope of data protection rules to use such tools, parties should make their own data ethical considerations about whether they should use them for detailed targeting and marketing.”

This is a re-written version of a Danish column in Politiken