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Hawley Introduces Bill to Crack Down on Tech Companies’ ‘Behavioral Advertising’ Practices

Sen. Josh Hawley, (R-MO), speaks during a Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing as the outbreak of the coronavirus continues, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., June 9, 2020. (Andrew Harnik/Reuters)

Senator Josh Hawley on Tuesday introduced a bill aimed at cracking down on the targeted advertising practices of major tech companies, saying the extent of the companies’ “surveillance and power” to collect user data has outpaced protections for users.

The Missouri Republican’s proposal, the Behavioral Advertising Decisions Are Downgrading Services (BAD ADS) Act, would eliminate the immunity large tech companies enjoy from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields them from legal liability for content posted by users.

Hawley criticized “behavioral advertising,” or the practice of individually targeting ads based on “personal traits of the user,” such as their online history.

Section 230 protections do not deal with targeted advertising, but Hawley’s bill threatens tech companies with the removal of the unrelated current liability shield for user-created content if they continue to invasively collect user data.

The bill is the latest of several that Hawley has introduced aimed at reigning in tech companies, including his Do Not Track Act, which would allow users to opt out of data tracking, and his bill to ban “addictive” design features such as infinite scrolling on some apps. The senator’s bill to ban the Chinese social media app TikTok was approved by several Senate committees and is expected to receive a vote in the Senate soon.

“Big Tech’s manipulative advertising regime comes with a massive hidden price tag for consumers while providing almost no return to anyone but themselves,” Hawley said in a statement. “From privacy violations to harming children to suppression of speech, the ramifications are very real. These kinds of manipulative ads are not what Congress had in mind when passing Section 230, and now is the time to put a stop to this abuse.”

Hawley’s bill comes as Democratic Senator Brian Schatz and Republican Senator John Thune, who have introduced legislation to reform Section 230, plan to holding a hearing Tuesday on the sweeping protections the law provides.

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