Meta succumbs to EU pressure, will seek user consent for targeted ads

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Meta operates a highly targeted advertising model based on the swathes of personal data you share on its platforms, and it makes tens of billions of dollars off it each year. 

While these tactics are unlikely to end altogether in the near future, the company could soon offer users in the EU the chance to “opt-in” to the ads, the Wall Street Journal reports. 

Since April, Meta has offered users in Europe the chance to opt out from personalised ads but only if they complete a lengthy form on its help pages. That process has likely limited the number of people who have opted out. 

An opt-in option, however, would give users protection by default. That doesn’t mean you won’t be targeted by generalised ads, based on broader demographic data, such as your age, but it would prevent highly personalised ads based on, for instance, the videos you watch or the posts you share. Under EU law, a user has to be able to access Meta’s platforms even if they opt out.   

Meta said the change stems from an order in January by Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) to reassess the legal basis of how it targets ads. The proposal comes amid mounting pressure from EU privacy regulators.

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In May, the DPC slapped Meta with a record €1.2bn fine over its transfer of user data to the US, which the watchdog said could violate citizens’ privacy under the GDPR. In fact, Meta has amassed half of the €5bn in fines issued under the GDPR since the law came into force five years ago. A new set of privacy rules, the Digital Markets Act (DMA), also forced the tech giant to delay the release of its new social app Threads in the EU.

As the EU tightens its grip and the fines pile up, it seems that the social media giant might finally be buckling. The change to its ads consent policy could come into effect in just three months’ time if the EU agrees to the proposal. 

Regulations limiting the company’s use of personal data for advertising could be a significant hit to its main source of income. The company said the Europe region generated 23% of its $31.5 billion in advertising revenue in the second quarter of this year.

However, Max Schrems, the privacy campaigner who filed the original forced consent GDPR complaint against Meta back in May 2018, says he will be closely monitoring exactly how Meta applies the new policy. 

“We will see if Meta is actually applying the consent requirement to all use of personal data for ads,” he said via his privacy rights not-for-profit noyb. “So far they talk about ‘highly personalized’ or ‘behavioural’ ads and it’s unclear what this means.

The GDPR covered all types of personalization, also on things like your age, which is not a ‘behaviour’. We will obviously continue litigation if Meta will not apply the law fully.”