EU hits Meta with $414m fine over advertising practices

Ireland’s data privacy board punishes Meta for effectively forcing users to accept targeted ads.

The Irish data privacy board has imposed a fine of 390 million Euros ($ 414 million) on Meta over advertising practices that are illegal under European Union law. Because Meta’s European operations are based in Dublin, the Ireland board is the company’s EU regulator.

Meta’s offense, the board concluded, was to incorporate user consent to use data for targeted advertising purposes within its terms of service, effectively forcing anyone using Facebook or Instagram, for example, to give up their data as a condition of using the platform. The board found this to be in violation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

Why we care. The reaction of marketers to this news might be mixed. The rich trove of first-party data collected by Meta’s social media platforms allows for precision audience segmentation and targeted advertising — even if the exact processes used are largely opaque to advertisers. On the other hand, brands will expect user data to be collected, managed and activated responsibly.

Of course, the U.S. doesn’t have anything in place quite like GDPR — yet, anyway. CCPA is much less constraining.

What happens next. What the board has not done is tell Meta how to solve the problem. Rather, it has set out a three month deadline for Meta to tell them the changes they will make. The obvious solution is to separate consent from the terms of service, allowing users to refuse permission to collect data while still having access to the platforms. If large numbers of users opt out, it could have a depressive effect on the value of Meta’s inventory — but the social media giant is already dealing with the tracking opt out on iPhone apps. This just adds to the pain, and so far in only one — albeit large — jurisdiction.

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About the author

Kim Davis is the Editorial Director of MarTech. Born in London, but a New Yorker for over two decades, Kim started covering enterprise software ten years ago. His experience encompasses SaaS for the enterprise, digital- ad data-driven urban planning, and applications of SaaS, digital technology, and data in the marketing space. He first wrote about marketing technology as editor of Haymarket’s The Hub, a dedicated marketing tech website, which subsequently became a channel on the established direct marketing brand DMN. Kim joined DMN proper in 2016, as a senior editor, becoming Executive Editor, then Editor-in-Chief a position he held until January 2020. Prior to working in tech journalism, Kim was Associate Editor at a New York Times hyper-local news site, The Local: East Village, and has previously worked as an editor of an academic publication, and as a music journalist. He has written hundreds of New York restaurant reviews for a personal blog, and has been an occasional guest contributor to Eater.