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NetChoice Urges California Court to Take Targeted Ads Case

SAN FRANCISCO—Today, NetChoice submitted an amicus letter to the California Supreme Court, urging it to review the case Liapes v. Facebook. In Liapes, a lower court’s unprecedented ruling would, in many cases, make it unlawful to direct online information and advertisements to the people most likely to be interested in them. 

This ruling presents a troubling contraction of immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. It also seriously miscategorizes California’s non-discrimination statute: The Unruh Civil Rights Act was designed to prevent arbitrary discrimination against individuals. It was not intended to and has never before been interpreted to stop consumers from receiving beneficial commercial information. 

“This unprecedented opinion from the lower court would make California the only state to effectively ban advertisers from showing users relevant information online that would annihilate the free, personalized internet we all enjoy while further expanding the digital divide,” said Carl Szabo, NetChoice Vice President & General Counsel. “To keep the internet a vibrant and innovative online marketplace for Californians, NetChoice asks the Court to review this case and reverse the lower Court’s judgment.” 

Organizations as diverse as a women’s prayer group and a seller of men’s orthopedic shoes are able to reach their audiences more effectively online because of targeted advertising—and to users’ great benefit. But if the lower court’s opinion stands, Facebook and every other online ad network could be liable under California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act for allowing targeting based on age and gender.

Our amicus letter explains four ways the lower court’s ruling would undermine Californians’ experiences online:

  • First, targeted advertising ensures the content users receive is relevant to their stage in life, cultural context, and other personal aspects. If advertisers on Instagram can no longer use demographic data, ads will become substantially less relevant and less welcome;
  • Second, for small businesses, targeted online advertising is an affordable way to reach customers truly interested in their products;
  • Third, reducing advertising to targeted and niche markets would negatively impact content creation generally. If ads become less effective—and thus less worthy of investing in—small content creators like bloggers and artists might struggle to find advertisers willing to sponsor their content; and
  • Finally, the ruling may inadvertently harm the consumers it seeks to protect. By undermining the economic model that supports free and low-cost online services, Californians might have to pay for more services and content that used to be free.

NetChoice also submitted a depublication request for this opinion. If the California Supreme Court denies review of this case, we ask it to remove the judgment from California’s Official Reports, preventing the dramatic consequences of the opinion. 

You can find our amicus letter here. Please contact with inquiries.