Bots versus ballots: Europeans fear AI threat to elections and lack of control over personal data

A significant majority of citizens in France, Germany and the UK polled about the possible impact of AI and deepfake technology on elections are worried about the prospect, a YouGov poll commissioned by Luminate has found.

While many expressed their lack of understanding of these tools, more than 70% of citizens in the UK and Germany who did understand AI and deepfake technology say they are concerned about the threat such technology poses to elections, the poll conducted in August found. 57% of people in France shared this view.

The poll also revealed deep unease with how new technologies and unchecked profiling based on personal data are impacting democracy. In the UK, Germany, and France, more people think social media companies hurt democracy than strengthen it. For example, 54% in the UK, 44% in France and 33% in Germany see these companies as a negative force, with respectively just 10%, 14% and 18% thinking it is positive.

These views were evenly shared across the political spectrum in all three countries.

The poll comes ahead of crucial elections in the EU and around the world between now and the end of 2024 which is now being referred to as the ‘Year of Democracy’. Nearly 65 major elections are scheduled with more than one in four people globally living in a country facing an election including in India, Indonesia, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, the UK, the US and the European Parliament.

The European Parliament elections will set the direction of the next European Commission. Luminate’s survey was conducted just as the EU's Digital Services Act, designed to rein in Big Tech’s harmful business model, went into force for the largest companies with more than 45 million monthly active users in the EU. 

“Every dollar these wealthy tech companies spend on billboards telling us they are protecting elections, is a dollar wasted from actually doing so,” said Alaphia Zoyab, Director of Campaigns & Media at Luminate. 

The poll also asked people what control they felt they had over how social media companies use their personal data. The findings are stark – 64% in France and 63% in Germany said they had no control, rising to 70% in the UK. These views were also evenly shared across the political spectrum in all three countries.

“In the last decade Big Tech companies launched a full-scale raid on our personal data that fuels today’s generative AI boom. They never really had our consent because they never gave us meaningful choice or actual control,” said Alaphia Zoyab.

In the UK, a Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) study on Online Platforms and the Digital advertising market said there were many barriers to consumers being able to exercise control over their data such as default settings and dark patterns in the way we are presented with privacy options and complex terms and conditions that can often run to over 10,000 words.

But an overwhelming number of users want control and choice. 88% of users in the UK felt it was important for social media companies to enable users to exercise their right to object to the use of their data for advertising. In France and Germany it was 81% and 75% respectively.  

In a recent experiment, Luminate’s partner organisation Eko had advertising created using AI tools with extreme hate speech accepted for publication. Eko withdrew the ads before they could go live.

Over 50 civil society groups under the banner of the People vs Big Tech network in Europe are demanding enforcement of these rules to tackle election-related threats and a global coalition is putting direct pressure on the companies to release their election Action Plans.

Notes to editors

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  

  • France: Total sample size was 1,008 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 23rd - 29th August 2023.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all France adults (aged 18+).
  • Germany: Total sample size was 2,067 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 22nd - 23rd August 2023.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all Germany adults (aged 18+).
  • UK: Total sample size was 2,156 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 30th - 31st August 2023.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+). 

For press enquiries or access to the full dataset please contact [email protected].

About Luminate

Luminate is a global foundation working to ensure that everyone – especially those who are underrepresented – has the information, rights, and power to influence the decisions that shape society. The foundation is focused on enabling people to fully participate in civic and political life, to safely challenge power, and to access accurate, trustworthy information.