No sooner had the EU Commission announced its plans for DMA (Digital Markets Act) and DSA (Digital Services Act) in December 2020 than Google set its lobbyists in motion. Among other objectives, the Alphabet subsidiary’s business model based on tracking, profiling and advertising (keywords: behavioural targeting, #SurveillanceAdvertising) should not be weakened by the new regulation.

A popular argument put forward by Google lobbyists “pro tracking” is that advertising generated by individual profiling and played out with microtargeting is necessary for the survival of small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in Europe. They would not want to do without it.

The opposite seems to be the case, as a recent survey among SMEs in Germany and France shows. The surveyed business owners are not satisfied with the methods of tracking-based advertising, have ethical concerns and wish for alternatives.

The survey was commissioned by Amnesty International and Global Witness. YouGov surveyed over 600 business owners in Germany and France.

Here are some of the results:

  • Three quarters of small and medium-sized businesses surveyed believe that tracking-based advertising violates the right to privacy and other human rights.
  • Tech giants should be subject to stricter regulations when using personal data for advertising purposes, say almost 79 percent of respondents.
  • The majority of business owners believe that their customers are not comfortable receiving targeted online advertising based on their ethnicity (62 percent), sexual orientation (66 percent), health (67 percent), religious or political beliefs (65 percent), personal life events such as pregnancy, bereavement, divorce (62 percent) or online behaviour (e.g. search history, websites visited, purchases made – 60 percent).

Why tracking-based advertising is still booming at Google and Facebook? Businesses suffer from a lack of alternatives: 69 percent of the entrepreneurs surveyed said that the market dominance of Facebook and Google leaves them no choice but to use their advertising services.

Clearly an opportunity for other models and providers that work without profiling and microtargeting. All the more reason to rely on non-tracking browsers and search engines to give them more reach. – As the Open Search Foundation, we see this as a reinforcement of our mission to demand and promote public good-oriented alternatives.


The YouGov poll was published on Monday (17 January 2022). For more information, visit Amnesty International and Global Witness. Details in Study Volume D and Study Volume F.

Together with Samuel Sousa (Graz University of Technology) and Roman Kern (Know-Center GmbH), Christian Guetl (member of Open Search Foundation and Head of CoDiS Lab, TU Graz) published an article about the challenges and solutions of privacy in Open Search.

Here is the abstract:

“Privacy is of worldwide concern regarding activities and processes that include sensitive data. For this reason, many countries and territories have been recently approving regulations controlling the extent to which organizations may exploit data provided by people. Artificial intelligence areas, such as machine learning and natural language processing, have already successfully employed privacy-preserving mechanisms in order to safeguard data privacy in a vast number of applications. Information retrieval (IR) is likewise prone to privacy threats, such as attacks and unintended disclosures of documents and search history, which may cripple the security of users and be penalized by data protection laws.

This work aims at highlighting and discussing open challenges for privacy in the recent literature of IR, focusing on tasks featuring user-generated text data. Our contribution is threefold: firstly, we present an overview of privacy threats to IR tasks; secondly, we discuss applicable privacy-preserving mechanisms which may be employed in solutions to restrain privacy hazards; finally, we bring insights on the tradeoffs between privacy preservation and utility performance for IR tasks.”

The paper was accepted at #ossym2021 – Third International Open Search Symposium
Autors: Samuel Sousa, Christian Guetl, Roman Kern

Read the full article at arXivLabs:

Carla Hustedt at #ossym21

Video recordings

Werner Stengg at #ossym21

Astrid Mager at #ossym21