European Union regulators on Wednesday hit Facebook parent Meta with hundreds of millions in fines for privacy violations and banned the company from forcing users in the 27-nation bloc to agree to personalized ads based on their online activity. Ireland's Data Protection Commission imposed two fines totaling 390 million euros—$414 million—in its decision in two cases that could shake up Meta's business model of targeting users with ads based on what they do online. The company says it will appeal. A decision in a third case involving Meta's WhatsApp messaging service is expected later this month. The Irish watchdog is Meta’s lead European data privacy regulator because its regional headquarters is in Dublin.
The Irish watchdog fined the company 210 million euros for violations of EU data privacy rules involving Facebook and an additional 180 million euros for breaches involving Instagram. The decision stems from complaints filed in May 2018 when the 27-nation bloc's privacy rules, known as the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, took effect. Previously, Meta relied on getting informed consent from users to process their personal data to serve them with personalize ads based on what users search for online, the websites they visit, or the videos they click on. When GDPR came into force, the company changed the legal basis under which it processes user data by adding a clause to the terms of service for advertisements, effectively forcing users to agree that their data could be used. That violates EU privacy rules.
Meta said in a statement that “we strongly believe our approach respects GDPR" and the company plans to appeal the decision. Meta and other Big Tech companies have come under pressure from the European Union's privacy rules, which are some of the world's strictest. Irish regulators have already slapped Meta with four other fines for data privacy infringements since 2021 that total more than 900 million euros and have a slew of other open cases against a number of Silicon Valley companies, the AP reports. Meta also faces regulatory headaches from EU antitrust officials in Brussels flexing their muscles against tech giants: They accused the company last month of distorting competition in classified ads.