European Consumer Groups Challenge Meta Over Data Practices

European consumer rights organizations have leveled serious accusations against Meta for what they describe as a wide-scale and unlawful data harvesting operation affecting millions of users across Europe.

by Faruk Imamovic
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European Consumer Groups Challenge Meta Over Data Practices
© Getty Images/Kevin Dietsch

European consumer rights organizations have leveled serious accusations against Meta, the conglomerate behind social media giants Facebook and Instagram, for what they describe as a wide-scale and unlawful data harvesting operation affecting millions of users across Europe.

This development marks yet another chapter in the ongoing saga of digital privacy concerns surrounding major tech entities.

A Clash Over Data Privacy

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC), representing 45 consumer groups, has taken a firm stand by initiating complaints through eight of its member organizations to their respective national data protection authorities.

The crux of these complaints is the allegation that Meta engages in the excessive collection of user data without explicit consent. According to these groups, the types of information gathered range from inferences about users' gender orientation to their emotional states and potential vulnerabilities to addiction.

This practice, they argue, not only contravenes the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), the European Union's benchmark privacy law, but also fuels an advertising model reliant on surveillance. "Meta fuels the surveillance-based ads system which tracks consumers online and gathers vast amounts of personal data for the purpose of showing them adverts," stated the BEUC in a press release.

Meta's Response and the Road Ahead

Meta, however, disputes these allegations, asserting its compliance with GDPR. A spokesperson for the company underscored Meta's commitment to privacy, highlighting significant overhauls made since 2019 to align with regulatory expectations and protect user data.

Despite Meta's defense, the complaints filed could open the tech giant to further legal challenges in Europe, a region where it has already faced stringent regulatory scrutiny. In a notable instance last May, the EU imposed a record €1.2 billion fine on Meta for GDPR violations related to the transfer of EU users' data to servers in the United States.

This penalty stands as the largest issued under the GDPR since its implementation in 2018. Adding to the complexity is Meta's recent introduction of a subscription service in Europe, ostensibly aimed at compliance with GDPR mandates.

This service, which allows users to access ad-free versions of Facebook and Instagram for a monthly fee, has sparked additional controversy. Critics, including the BEUC, argue that the subscription option presents users with a false choice, obscured by a lack of transparency about how it alters Meta's data processing practices.

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