Agencies: prepare for more transparency in political advertising

19 September, Brussels – Last week, the European Commission released a package of requirements for EU Member States to increase transparency regarding upcoming elections. For advertising agencies, there are two noteworthy elements.

The first one – guidance on the application of Union data protection law in the electoral context – gives an overview of the rules applicable to political campaigning online under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which entered into force in May earlier this year. If there is a breach of these rules, the respective data controller could be liable for 20 million EUR or 4 % of the total worldwide annual turnover, whichever is higher. Agencies will have to be careful as the liability under the GDPR could be passed on also to subcontractors.

The second main element is a recommendation, encouraging European and national political parties, foundations, and campaign organisations to make sure that their paid online advertisements and communications are easily recognisable with information about who is behind these ads, the expenditure and the targeting criteria used. It is not directly addressed at advertising agencies as such but could be applicable to them if they are working for a political client.

The same recommendation also asks the EU member states to facilitate the transparency of paid online political advertisements and communications. Although the recommendation is not legally binding, the member states could take legislative action in this field. Furthermore, the Commission urges the member states to apply sanctions where the recognisability of online political adverts and the disclosure of expenditure and targeting criteria are not ensured.

The guidance and the recommendation can be accessed here in English and other European languages.