In the October 2018 Budget, the Chancellor announced that the CDEI would be exploring the use of data in shaping people’s online experiences. This review forms a key part of our 2019/2020 work programme.
It relates closely to several government workstreams, including the planned Online Harms Bill. It also relates to a number of high-profile regulatory activities, including the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) market study into online platforms and digital advertising, and the Information Commissioner’s Office’s (ICO) code of practice on age appropriate design for online services.
This is the final report of the CDEI’s Review of online targeting and includes our first set of formal recommendations to the government.
How did we form our final recommendations?
Our evidence base is informed by a landscape summary (led by Professor David Beer of York University); an open call for evidence; a UK-wide programme of public engagement; and a regulatory review of eight regulators. We have consulted widely in the UK and internationally with academia, civil society, regulators and the government. We have also held interviews with and received evidence from a range of online platforms in addition to advertising companies and industry bodies.
What did the public engagement involve?
The CDEI commissioned Ipsos MORI to deliver qualitative and quantitative analysis of public attitudes on online targeting. Ipsos MORI engaged 147 participants aged 16+ in two days of discussion across seven locations in Great Britain over June-July 2019.
Two waves of online survey research were conducted in December 2019 and January 2020, with a sample of c2,200 adults aged 16-75 living in Great Britain.
What recommendations is the CDEI making?
The CDEI’s recommendations aim to make online platforms more accountable, increase transparency, and empower users to take control of how they are targeted. These include:
New systemic regulation of the online targeting systems that promote and recommend content like posts, videos and adverts.
Powers to require platforms to allow independent researchers secure access to their data to build an evidence base on issues of public concern - from the potential links between social media use and declining mental health, to its role in incentivising the spread of misinformation
Platforms to host publicly accessible online archives for ‘high-risk’ adverts, including politics, ‘opportunities’ (e.g. jobs, housing, credit) and age-restricted products.
Steps to encourage long-term wholesale reform of online targeting to give individuals greater control over how their online experiences are personalised.
What happens next?
When establishing the CDEI the government committed to publicly respond to the Centre’s recommendations within 6 months of publication.
Our proposals focus on its Online Harms Bill, review of online advertising regulation, and government announcements on electoral integrity and reform of competition regulation in digital markets. We will be engaging with the government on these programmes and monitoring their progress closely.
The CDEI aim to support the UK government and regulators to help deliver its recommendations, and look forward to working with online platforms, civil society, regulators and government to build trust in the use of data online.