Ten Terrible Tech Bills from the 117th Congress: Banning Surveillance Advertising Act of 2022

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DuckDuckGo is a success story. Launched in 2008, the online search engine has centered its product around privacy. In short, they “don’t collect or share personal information.” Last year, its annual search queries surpassed 35 billion, an impressive uptick from just under 6 billion in 2017.

The search engine has presented itself as an alternative to Google, especially its advertising model. DuckDuckGo uses contextual advertising, which displays ads based on the content of the website being visited. This is in contrast with Google’s use of targeting advertising, also called behavioral or surveillance advertising, which displays ads using personal data from prior viewing history.

DuckDuckGo, quite obviously, was named after the game Duck, Duck, Goose. And it’s appropriate, even if the metaphor is unintentional, because the popular playground game hinges on choice. The company encourages users to “Duck it” instead of “Google it,” but members of Congress want to make that choice on your behalf by prohibiting Google’s advertisement model.

9. Banning Surveillance Advertising Act of 2022

The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act of 2022 (H.R. 6416, S. 3520)—sponsored by Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) and Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Mazie Hirono (D-HI)—seeks to, as its name implies, ban surveillance advertising.

Congress has long had its eye on targeted advertising. As CEI’s Wayne Crews wrote back in 2008:

Targeted advertising helps fuel today’s flood of information, frictionless e-commerce, and the global blogger soapbox. … Privacy is not a “thing” to legislate; it is a relationship expressed in countless ways. User preferences preclude one-size-fits-all privacy policy.

Companies like Google and Facebook use behavioral advertising to benefit both producers and consumers. Banning the practice would only hurt the internet economy. According to Ashley Johnson of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the bill would lead to both less effective advertising and less revenue for websites and apps that depend on ads to keep their products free of charge.

Furthermore, the Act would likely disproportionally harm smaller companies that rely on targeted advertising to attract new customers. It may require some to increase their marketing budgets, which means less resources directed to producing innovative and quality products. Established brands with more robust advertising budgets would be less affected.

For users that prefer to evade behavioral advertising, there are alternative products in the market: DuckDuckGo. The privacy search engine has been heralded by proponents of the bill as what should become the standard, not just an option.

The Banning Surveillance Advertising Act seeks to make all search engines like DuckDuckGo, eliminating consumer choice altogether. It echoes a familiar tone of paternalism that can be found in nearly all of the aforementioned bills, that consumers somehow require protection from themselves.