EU authorities ban Meta from using personal data for advertising

The ban will begin in two weeks and appears to cripple Big Tech's ability to sell first-person data used by marketers.

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The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) is permanently banning Meta from using personal data for advertising across the EU and European Economic Area (EEA). As it stands, the ban cripples the company’s ability to sell personalized ads to the 258 million Europeans who use Facebook and Instagram each month.

“Meta has been found …  to not have demonstrated compliance with the orders imposed at the end of last year,” EDPB Chair Anu Talus said in a statement. “It is high time for Meta to bring its processing into compliance and to stop unlawful processing.”

In a statement, Meta said it has cooperated with regulators and that the EDPB decision “unjustifiably ignores that careful and robust regulatory process.” 

Dig deeper: MarTech’s guide to GDPR: The General Data Protection Regulation

The EDPB called this an “urgent, binding decision instructing the … lead supervisory authority to impose, within two weeks, a ban on the processing of personal data for behavioral advertising on the legal bases of contract and legitimate interest across the entire European Economic Area.”

Ad-free subscription

On Monday, Meta announced it was rolling out ad-free subscriptions for Facebook and Instagram users in Europe and putting a “temporary” ban on ads to those under 18. The company described the ban on ads to teens as temporary, saying it is exploring new ways to offer teens a “useful and responsible ad experience.”

No details have been released yet about what that “ad experience” is likely to be.

The decision follows a request in September from Norway’s Data Protection Authority that the EDPB apply Norway’s ban on Meta’s processing of personal data to the entire EEA.  

The Norwegian authority has said Meta’s plans for paid subscriptions are likely illegal. This is because of a GDPA rule that says consent is not considered freely given if it is a condition of access to a service where the processing of personal data is not necessary to that service.

“It is likely that most people will opt to provide consent rather than pay (and presumably this is what Meta are also expecting),” privacy advocate Alexander Hanff wrote in an article on LinkedIn, “but if that consent is not considered as freely given, Meta’s advertising model will still be illegal.”

Why we care. The implications of the EDPB’s ruling go well beyond Meta’s bottom line. First-party data is considered the gold standard of customer information by marketers. The end of third-party cookies will mean it is the only reliable source for this data. Now it is about to vanish in the world’s second-largest consumer market. This will mean a huge loss of revenue for both those who sell it and those who rely on it to sell.

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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