Facebook’s mother organization Meta has been fined $1.3 billion for a data privacy breach when transferring user data between Europe and USA.
The fine came with an order to stop transferring Facebook user data from EU citizens to the United States. The decision, made by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), highlights concerns that such transfers expose EU citizens to privacy breaches, an issue first raised by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.
The DPC stated that the current legal framework for data transfers to the US does not adequately address the risks to EU Facebook users’ fundamental rights and freedoms, violating the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
This fine surpasses the previous record of €746 million imposed on Amazon in 2021 for similar privacy violations.
For Meta, data transfers to the US are crucial for its targeted advertising operations, which heavily rely on processing vast amounts of personal data from users.
Last year, Meta warned that it might consider shutting down Facebook and Instagram in the EU if these transfers were disrupted.
However, EU politicians viewed this as an attempt at coercion. EU lawmaker Axel Voss stated, “Meta cannot just blackmail the EU into giving up its data protection standards. Leaving the EU would be their loss.”
Previously, data transfers were protected by the Privacy Shield agreement, but in 2020, the EU’s highest court invalidated this framework, ruling that it failed to protect data from US surveillance programs.
The court’s decision came after a claim by Austrian lawyer Max Schrems, who has been battling Facebook since 2013, sparked by Edward Snowden’s revelations.
Despite the order to cease data transfers, some factors favor the US tech giant.
The ruling only applies to data from Facebook, excluding other Meta-owned entities like Instagram and WhatsApp.
A five-month grace period has been given before Meta must stop future transfers, and an additional six months have been granted to cease storing existing data in the US.
Negotiations between the EU and the US are ongoing to establish a new data transfer agreement, which could be implemented as early as this summer or as late as October.
Meta has denounced the fine as ‘unjustified and unnecessary’ and plans to appeal the decision and seek a stay with the courts. They argue that compliance with the orders would harm the millions of individuals who use Facebook daily.