Gender for Sale: Regulating Sexist Online Behavioural Advertising

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
David DAVIES, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
SMART Law? Law in the Age of Blockchain, Legal Metrics, Algorithms and Big Data


Gender for sale: Regulating sexist online behavioural advertising

As online behavioural advertising (OBA) – or targeted advertising – becomes more ubiquitous in daily life, the question for lawyers has been, how to regulate discriminatory forms of advertising that feature sexualisation, objectification or gender stereotypes? Often, governments, legislators and regulatory bodies struggle to keep up to speed with the rapidly changing technology and forms of advertisement. Thus far, tackling sexist forms of advertising has only been approached through traditional formats, such as regulating TV, radio, newspaper and online content. Self-regulation and legislation has developed rigorously in the EU over the last decade with certain member states such as Spain spearheading the issue. However, such regulation has ultimately proven too weak to capture the personalised or online behavioural advertisement. Therefore the legal ‘problem’ is how to regulate such adverts that rely on data collection and algorithms that (re)produce gender stereotypes in advertising? From my research data collected across three EU member states, teens and pre-teens reported that not only does personalised and targeted advertising play a big part in their everyday lives it also produces harmful stereotypes, body image norms and gendered sexualisation. Targeted advertising also has negative impact on mental and physical health of their audiences. In all three case studies, the focus group’s ‘visual diaries’ centred on personalised advertisements that ‘followed’ participants around the internet. This paper argues that these processes of targeting sexist advertising reproduce gender inequality and become unlawful in their denial of the right to privacy and freedom from discrimination. As targeted advertising becomes ever more omnipresent in our everyday lives, further legislation is required to regulate online behavioural adverts that produce and reproduce sexist advertising.