Zuckerberg’s Meta Hit with €390 Million Fine for Ignoring Privacy Rules
In the age of social media, almost everyone who possesses a profile on any one of the major online platforms (Twitter, Facebook, TikTok) can tell you a story about how they conducted a web search for a specific service or product, only to immediately see an ad for said service or product upon logging into their favorite social media app.
It’s enough to stir up paranoia for many as the brutal reality of the information age is that we are, in fact, being closely monitored by the applications, websites, and devices that we remain tethered to as if they were an extension of our physical beings.
So the question becomes, where is the line drawn between what information is necessary for app makers and websites to collect to improve the user experience, and what constitutes negligent abuse?
For Europeans, the most relevant guide to refer to is the wide-ranging set of laws known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). The GDPR sets forth guidelines describing acceptable practices, although at times, even some of the largest operators within the tech space have had issues with complying with the rules.
In one major example, authorities within the European Union recently hit tech giant, Meta, with a hefty fine of nearly four hundred million euros for violating GDPR’s limits on personalized ads. This massive penalty is the result of an investigation into the company’s use of customer data, which was carried out by France’s competition authority.
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (IDPC), the bureau responsible for the financial penalty, leveled two separate fines against Meta totaling 390 million euros ($414 million) in its decisions in two cases that will now certainly shake up Meta’s business model — specifically its practice of targeting users with ads based on their online activity. Although the company says it will appeal, a critical decision in a third case involving Meta’s WhatsApp messaging service in India is expected shortly.
Meta has been accused of disregarding user privacy and collecting vast amounts of personal data without consent from their customers in order to create highly personalized advertisements. These actions allowed them to gain access to sensitive information such as age, gender, and political opinions that would be unlikely for any other firm to obtain through normal means.
Although Meta initially denied these allegations and claimed that it had done nothing wrong, it eventually agreed to pay the fine as well as implement measures to ensure that user data is only collected with their explicit consent in the future.
The penalty serves as a strong reminder of how seriously GDPR is taken and that any companies found violating its principles will be held accountable for their actions. It is also a stark warning to other firms who may be tempted to collect personal data without permission in order to gain an unfair advantage over competitors.
The fine handed out to Meta also sets a precedent for authorities to take action against any companies found in violation of data protection laws and regulations. Furthermore, it emphasizes the importance for businesses to protect user privacy and ensure that customer data is collected and used in a responsible manner.
The decision comes as some consumer groups have heightened advocacy efforts on behalf of web and social media app users that are now fed up with the Big Tech’s propensity to consistently overstep boundaries. One group known as AppEsteem has created a set of what they call “Ad Pollution Indicators” that identify in part, the tactics used by social media apps to unnecessarily overstep boundaries in collecting data for the purpose of displaying targeted advertisements.
According to AppEsteem President Dennis Batchelder:
Facebook’s advertisements are personalized without first obtaining explicit, informed user consent. AppEsteem believes that explicitly crosses the boundaries of what should be considered acceptable business practices. Sure, everyone wants to make money, but not at the price of sacrificing privacy regarding consumer data.
These kinds of personalized advertisements that Meta was tagged for can invade privacy in a variety of ways. From tracking an individual’s online activities to collecting data from their device, personalized ads can often be intrusive. By gathering information about a person’s interests and browsing habits, companies are able to target them with ads that are relevant to them — which may not always be welcome or desired by the consumer.
Additionally, some websites and apps will even go so far as to collect personal identifying information such as name, address, phone number, email address, etc., which could be used for malicious or fraudulent purposes if it falls into the wrong hands or is sold to third parties that can attempt to monetize the data. Furthermore, personalized advertising can lead to surveillance capitalism: companies use collected data on individuals to create detailed profiles of consumers and use that data to tailor ads and services in an effort to maximize profits.
The massive fines handed to Meta will hopefully represent a shift in “Big Tech” towards showing more respect to their user’s private data in an effort to assure a safer and more user-friendly social media experience. With more and more Americans, as well as people all around the world communicating via social media, hopefully 2023 is the year that the increasingly Orwellian tactics used by the software in the devices that we shudder to think of being separated from, finally begin to dissipate.
Julio Rivera is a business and political strategist, Editorial Director for Reactionary Times, and a political commentator and columnist. His writing, which is focused on cybersecurity and politics, has been published by many of the most heavily trafficked websites in the world.
Image: Anthony Quintano from Honolulu, HI, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons, unaltered.