Facebook parent company Meta is facing yet another legal challenge over user privacy, as a Spanish media company representing top media outlets in the country is suing the social media giant for $600 million for competitively unfair advertising practices based on noncompliance with the EU's General Data Privacy Regulation (GDPR).
The Information Media Association (La Asociación de Medios de Información, or AMI), has filed a €550 million (US$600 million) lawsuit against Meta, claiming Meta's ability to design personalised advertising on its Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp platforms based on its enormous user base represents an unfair competitive advantage in the advertising market in Europe, which includes media companies.
AMI represents 83 Spanish media outlets, including Prisa, which owns the country's top newspaper, El Pais; Vocento, the owner of ABC; and Unidad Editorial S.L., a Spanish subsidiary of Italian company RCS MediaGroup which owns El Mundo, the second-largest paper in Spain.
The association is accusing Meta of "systematic and massive non-compliance with European data protection regulations" during the period from 25 May 2018, until 31 July 2023, according to a press statement. The regulation the group is referring to is the GDPR, first enacted in May 2018 and meant to create accountability among internet companies by forcing them to comply with requirements around data privacy to protect their users or face steep penalties for noncompliance.
That Facebook's parent company is being sued over privacy is nothing new, as there have been numerous legal challenges resulting in settlements and fines — including 2019's US$5 billion fine by the US Trade Commission — over Facebook's data-collection policies and how it uses the data of people with accounts on its social-media platform.
However, the case is different in that it could set a new legal precedent — it accuses the company of an unfair advantage in terms of advertising on the basis of the GDPR. This represents a new interpretation of the legislation, which when initially enacted was more focused on protecting users in the case of data breaches on the platform.
If the case is successful, it could be the foundation for similar cases against Meta across Europe, experts said. In fact, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, Nicolas Gonzalez Cuellar, said nearly as much in a comment published in an online report by Reuters. "Of course, in any other EU country, the same legal proceeding could be initiated" with regards to an alleged violation of European regulations, he told Reuters.
The basis of the AMI's argument is that Facebook has built its dominant position in online advertising by disregarding regulations aimed at protecting the privacy of its European users, reusing their data without their consent. This has caused damage to Spanish media companies who also use advertising revenue to support their businesses — to the point that their sustainability is at risk, according to a press statement by AMI president Jose Joly.