Meta Warns Pulling Facebook, Instagram in Europe Over Data Sharing Concerns

Meta has issued a stark warning to Europe: Facebook and Instagram will no longer be available unless data is allowed to flow to the company’s servers in the US.

As CNBC reports, the warning was contained within the 134-page annual report (PDF) filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Meta is concerned that it won’t be able to continue providing a number of services if data sharing regulations across Europe aren’t made clear and continue to allow data to flow “between countries or regions in which we operate” and “among our products and services.”

Meta points to the Privacy Shield transfer framework it relied upon for data sharing between the European Union and the US becoming “invalidated” in July 2020. The Standard Contractual Clauses (SCC) are subject to scrutiny, and the Irish Data Protection Commission concluded transferring data from the EU to the US doesn’t achieve compliance with GDPR rules. The company clearly thinks it’s running out of options to legally allow data sharing with the US.

“If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted and we are unable to continue to rely on SCCs (standard contractual clauses) or rely upon other alternative means of data transfers from Europe to the United States, we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe,” Facebook said.

The company added this “would materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations.”

Europe has strict privacy laws that provide protection to internet users across the European Union, but this poses a problem for US tech companies such as Meta. These companies rely on international data transfer agreements in order to transfer, store and process data at their data centers in the US.

But because the US doesn’t provide adequate protection for EU citizens against government snooping, the most recent data transfer agreement between the EU and US was ruled invalid in July 2020 by a top European court.

“Meta cannot just blackmail the EU into giving up its data protection standards,” European lawmaker Axel Voss said via Twitter, adding that “leaving the EU would be their loss.” Voss has previously written some of the EU’s data protection legislation.

Meta is far from the only company dealing with the uncertainty, although it may be among the biggest and most high profile. Many companies based in the US and EU, both big and small, are concerned about the future of data transfers and are keenly awaiting a new agreement that will ensure the future of their operations.

“We have absolutely no desire and no plans to withdraw from Europe, but the simple reality is that Meta, and many other businesses, organizations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate global services,” said the company spokesperson.

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