Political ads have followed consumers to popular streaming services. But unlike traditional TV broadcasters, streamers are not required to disclose how ads are targeted or who is viewing them.
And while social media platforms have begun to come under public and government scrutiny, streaming services seem to be flying under the radar.
Online political ads have enormous influence because of their abilities to “microtarget, manipulate and misinform voters at a level unmatched by any other form of political speech,” yet these ads “are subject to almost no regulation and oversight, especially in the domain of streaming platforms," sums up Mozilla researcher Becca Ricks. “It’s a worrying combination.”
Mozilla, as part of the Mozilla Foundation’s efforts to ensure that the internet remains a public resource “open and accessible to all,” has just released a study on this state of affairs — and it’s not pretty.
The study researched six leading ad-supported streaming platforms — Hulu, Roku, Tubi, CBS All-Access, YouTube TV and Sling TV — based on their political ad policies, ad transparency tools, ad targeting capabilities, potential for abuse, and user control over ads.
The researchers asked a set of questions within each of those five categories, such as: Does the service fact-check or otherwise vet political ads? Does it have a public ad transparency library that includes all ads, not just political ads? How precise can political advertisers get when they target users?
Mozilla then assigned a letter grade to each platform.
Sling got the worst overall grade, an F, while YouTube got the best grade, B. The report card is shown above. More specifics about what findings went into individual platforms’ grades are available in Mozilla’s report.
In the process, Mozilla uncovered what it describes as “startling” political advertising trends in the streaming space “that all voters should be aware of as the election draws near.”
For starters, the study confirms that the streamers' targeting is highly sophisticated. “Most [ad-supported] streaming platforms offer very complex ad targeting that is comparable to Facebook,” the report points out. “Most allow political advertisers to pull in third-party data, which means that viewers generally could be targeted with political ads based on household income, education level, marital status, causes they support, their political party affiliation, whether they are a registered voter, or whether they have cast their ballot already.”
(The report also notes that non-political advertisers have access to even more complex tools, including customer matching, inferred behaviors, and lookalike audiences.)
On the transparency front, “opacity, not transparency, is the status quo,” when it comes to political ads, says the report. In fact, all of the services were graded F on transparency except YouTube TV, which got a B.
For instance, only YouTube TV was found to offer ad transparency libraries or archives. Roku said it’s planning to release an ad archive soon, “but early details about that archive suggest that barely any information will be provided,” the researchers say.
Originally published by
Karlene Lukovitz | September 22, 2020