Meta’s consent bypass strategy fails in EU

  • by Arlo Gilbert
  • · posted on December 8, 2022
  • · 4 min read
Meta’s consent bypass strategy fails in EU

Hello all! I hope all of our subscribers in the northern hemisphere are surviving the short winter days.

There is some significant GDPR-related news in our newsletter today: Meta may no longer serve targeted advertisements to EU citizens without their consent.

For those of you familiar with EU law, it’s probably a surprise that Meta was able to serve targeted ads without consent in the first place—users must explicitly opt into the data collection and processing required for ad personalization in the EU, so personalizing ads without that consent seems like a clear violation.

However, consent is just one way to obtain a legal basis for processing personal information. Meta attempted to sidestep this requirement by burying targeted advertising language in its terms and conditions. In this way, they hoped to rely on another legal basis for data collection and processing: the performance of a contract. If users agreed to the terms and conditions of Facebook, WhatsApp, or Instagram, Meta argued they were agreeing to receive the “service” of being presented personalized ads, and therefore to the data collection and processing necessary to present those ads.

According to reporting from the Wall Street Journal, the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) has deemed this to be an inappropriate legal basis. However, the EDPB hasn’t actually made any orders to Meta; rather, it has requested that the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) issue public orders and fines. 

It should be noted that all of this comes from unnamed sources in the WSJ article and that nothing has been officially declared yet. Further, the Irish DPC has a history of playing nice with tech companies (in fact, the Irish DPC worked with Meta on establishing its original consent bypass strategy). 

Still, if the news is to be believed and if the Irish DPC enforces the EDPB’s findings, it could be a major blow to Meta’s business in the EU. When asked whether they’re comfortable with being tracked—even for something as seemingly innocuous as advertising—most people respond in the negative.


Best,
Arlo


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About The Author · Arlo Gilbert

Arlo Gilbert is the CEO & co-founder of Osano. An Austin, Texas native, he has been building software companies for more than 20 years in categories including telecom, payments, procurement, and compliance. In 2005 Arlo invented voice commerce, he has testified before congress on technology issues, and is a frequent speaker on data privacy rights.