Although it is almost certainly just saber-rattling, Meta is threatening to stop operating Facebook and Instagram in Europe in response to a preliminary order from the European Union that would force the company to suspend transfers of EU users’ data to the U.S.
The EU’s privacy regulatory board issued the preliminary order last September. EU officials are increasingly concerned about potential surveillance by the U.S. government, and so are seeking to keep data within users’ own regions, away from other nations.
Facebook filed a lawsuit challenging the order put out by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), and has now issued a formal response, in a sworn affadavit (posted on Vice) from Yvonne Cunnane, Facebook Ireland’s head of data protection and associate general counsel.
If the decision is upheld, “it is not clear to [Facebook] how, in those circumstances, it could continue to provide the Facebook and Instagram services in the EU,” she wrote.
The two social media services have more than 410 million Facebook and Instagram users in the EU.
In her response, Facebook’s Cunnane says that Facebook wasn’t contacted about the inquiry before the decision, and was given a “manifestly inadequate” three weeks to respond to the decision.
She also contends that Facebook is being unfairly singled out, although other big tech companies use similar methods to transfer data, and asserts that it is inappropriate and inadequate for one person — Helen Dixon, Ireland’s data commissioner — to have the power to make such a decision.
Experts deem it extremely unlikely that Meta would permanently give up the revenue generated by the EU region. Some suggest that Meta might instead consider establishing local data centers, although that would likely mean agreeing to pay taxes in the region.
But the EU pullout threat underscores how much is at stake for Meta, which was already under siege on both the antitrust and privacy fronts in the U.S., and is now reeling from the stock hit from last week’s Q4 2021 earnings report.
In response to Australia’s efforts to force Facebook to pay publishers for use of their content, Meta has threatened to stop allowing publishers and Australian platform users to share local and international news on the platforms.