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A privacy win! LinkedIn restricts ad targeting after our complaint

Good news: LinkedIn has abolished targeting ads based on users' personal sensitive data! The platform did this after we filed a complaint about it.

Our complaint

In February, together with European Digital Rights (EDRi), Gesellschaft für Freiheitsrechte (GFF) and Global Witness, we filed a complaint with the European Commission based on the Digital Services Act. That law states that sensitive data, such as sexual orientation, political views or ethnicity, should not influence the ads you see on a platform. Our investigation showed that LinkedIn did allow targeting ads based on such data. In fact, advertisers could target ads to LinkedIn group names. Such group names sometimes contain sensitive data, such as groups of political parties, religions or LGBTQIA+ groups.

Our position is clear: this method of targeted advertising is prohibited. Fortunately, the European Commission took the complaint seriously, and sent LinkedIn a request for information just a month later.

Resulting in...

Last week we received the redeeming word: LinkedIn has to stop the ability to target ads to groups in the EU, following our complaint. In our opinion, this is a major privacy victory. The changes LinkedIn has made will better protect people from targeted discrimination based on their sensitive characteristics. These developments additionally demonstrate that the Digital Services Act, the new platform law, is working and being enforced. In addition, this victory underscores the crucial role of civil society organizations in holding Big Tech accountable.

Background

LinkedIn is a growing player in online advertising, both globally and in Europe. Ad revenues have grown in recent years and are only predicted to grow more.

Tracking-based ads create a pervasive system of surveillance and profiling throughout the Internet. Because the profiling and tracking of people online is often invisible, people are unable to exercise their fundamental rights and to meaningfully object to being monitored, targeted and manipulated by the ad industry.

Yet this industry puts profit before people's privacy. While it is impossible for most people to exercise control over what data is collected and by whom, it has a direct impact on what users get to see online. Losing control over the content people see directly limits their freedom of information and expression, and enables discriminatory practices by advertisers.

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