Brussels continues to tie short the practices of the giants of social networks. In addition to its struggle to ensure the use of user data, the European Commission has analyzed the commercial policy of these platforms, in particular, the advertising techniques that contravene the directive that puts a stop to unfair practices in this field. The study concludes that 36% of social network users do not notice the "camouflaged" advertising they generate. Several organizations consulted for the study showed their concern because consumers "are not aware" to what extent social network providers "track their behavior" and "lack of transparency" about the use and storage of their data. The Commission will take the study to the member countries to determine if coordinated action at the community level can be undertaken.
The social network Facebook, which carries a threat of sanction for not adapting to community law, is the main platform to receive 43.6% of visits generated in the European Union, Norway and Iceland. It is followed by YouTube (28.6%), Twitter (4.3%) and Instagram (2.5%). That is, these four companies account for 80% of the time users spend sharing or browsing on social networks. This dominance of the market has led the European Commission to examine its practices, in this case, the advertising ones with a magnifying glass.
The report finds several relevant aspects in which these networks fail to comply with community regulations. To begin with, "camouflaged advertising", which is what is not perceived as such because it is completely integrated into the medium's environment, with its editorial style. For example, ads that appear on Twitter as if it were just another comment in which only the word "promoted" is very discreet. And on some platforms, not even that.
In fact, these techniques work: according to the report prepared by the Commission, 36% of Internet users are unable to see these ads. The notices of social networks, as they are formulated, have little effect on the consumer. Neither do those who perform acquaintances influencers, who "often do not disclose the commercial purpose of their posts", Adds the report.
The European Commission also analyzes the use of indicators such as the popular I like it for commercial purposes After the analysis, Brussels concludes that these can be "artificially increased and falsified", which implies "misrepresenting" contents. The study did not determine that users are very impressed by a large number of I like it, but it can affect the exposure of consumers to commercial content.
Use of user data
The third section that examines Brussels is precisely one of the most controlled: the use of data that is made of the user. The report notes that these companies try to combine the data collected through social networks (for example, user preferences or their interactions) with those obtained outside of these through advertisers or external resources. This mixture allows companies to address specific users of social networks through email, telephone number or user identification, which can facilitate social networks to build a kind of databases.
The Commissioner for Justice, Consumption and Gender Equality, Vera Jourová, said in a statement that the report provides evidence about concerns that the Commission already had about advertising on social networks. "Some of the techniques used are unfair and manipulative and we would not allow them in the world offtline. I will take this case to the national consumer authorities to see if a coordinated action is required at a European level, "he said.
The report was conducted by tracking the top 30 suppliers in each country, with discussions with users in four countries (Belgium, Italy, Hungary and Latvia), about fifty surveys with consumer organizations, advertising companies, academics and intermediaries and with the technique of mistery shopping to verify the practices of these networks.