Sen. Josh Hawley wants to strip legal protections from sites with targeted ads

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Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) has introduced the latest of several bills designed to weaken a key online legal shield. The Behavioral Advertising Decisions Are Downgrading Services (or BAD ADS) Act would remove protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act for large web services that display ads based on “personal traits of the user” or a user’s previous online behavior. This is defined as “behavioral advertising” and does not include targeting based on users’ locations or the content of the site they’re on.

Section 230 shields websites from legal liability for user-created content. Unlike several previous bills, including ones sponsored by Hawley, the BAD ADS Act doesn’t appear to address any specific critiques of Section 230. It’s seemingly an anti-targeted ads bill that threatens companies with the loss of an unrelated legal protection instead of monetary fines. Hawley has previously introduced a bill that would create a Do Not Call list equivalent for targeted advertising, and he’s proposed banning “addictive” design features like endless scrolling on social networking apps.

In a statement, Hawley said that “manipulative ads are not what Congress had in mind when passing Section 230,” although he did not elaborate on a relationship between the two topics.

The BAD ADS Act was proposed shortly before a Senate hearing on a separate Section 230 reform bill called the PACT Act, which is aimed at making websites and apps take down illegal content more swiftly and provide more transparency in their moderation policies. It also comes a day after the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) advanced an executive order that President Donald Trump signed with the goal of overhauling Section 230.

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