London: Meta — the Mark Zuckerberg-owned parent of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram — now faces a historic fine of €1.2 billion (roughly Rs 10,753 crore) from the European Union (EU), as reported by Bloomberg. The social media giant has been ordered to cease transferring Facebook user data of EU citizens to the United States. The European Union’s courts argue that such data transfers expose EU citizens to privacy breaches, a concern that originated in 2013 following revelations made by whistleblower Edward Snowden regarding US mass surveillance programmes.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) issued the ruling, stating that the existing legal framework for data transfers to the US failed to adequately address the risks to the fundamental rights and freedoms of Facebook’s EU users, as per Politico’s report. This fine surpasses the previous EU record set in 2021 when Amazon was penalised €746 million (roughly Rs 668 crore) for similar privacy violations.
The transfer of data to the US plays a crucial role in Meta’s extensive ad-targeting operations, which heavily rely on processing various personal data streams from its users. Last year, Meta hinted that it might consider discontinuing Facebook and Instagram services in the EU if it was unable to transmit data to the US. European Union politicians viewed this as a blatant threat, with EU lawmaker Axel Voss responding, “Meta cannot just blackmail the EU into giving up its data protection standards. Leaving the EU would be their loss.”
Previously, these data transfers were safeguarded by a transatlantic agreement known as the Privacy Shield. However, in 2020, this framework was deemed invalid by the EU’s highest court due to its failure to protect data from being accessed by US surveillance programs. This ruling was a response to a claim made by Austrian lawyer Max Schrems, who has been engaged in a legal battle against Facebook since 2013, following the original Snowden disclosures on US surveillance.
Although Meta has been instructed to halt these data transfers, there are several conditions that favour the US social media giant. Firstly, the ruling solely applies to data from Facebook and does not encompass other Meta-owned companies like Instagram and WhatsApp. Secondly, there is a five-month grace period before Meta is required to cease future transfers, with a final deadline set for October 22nd. Lastly, the EU and US are currently engaged in negotiations for a new data transfer agreement, which could be implemented as early as this summer or as late as October.
Despite the substantial amount of the fine, experts doubt that it will bring about any fundamental changes to Meta’s privacy practices. Johnny Ryan, a senior fellow at the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, told The Guardian, “A billion-euro parking ticket is of no consequence to a company that earns many more billions by parking illegally.”
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