Meta Fined $414 Million, Forced to Change its Approach to Ad Personalization in Europe

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Meta could be forced to make significant changes to its targeted ad offerings in Europe, after EU regulators ruled that the company has been illegally forcing users to effectively accept personalized ads in its apps.

The ruling, along with a fine of 390 million ($US414 million), could force Meta to restructure its current ad systems, and how it gains user permission for such within its apps. Effectively, the ruling suggests that Meta may need to get direct legal consent from each of its 408 million EU users in order to show them personalized ads – or it risks further fines for breaching the EU’s GDPR.

Of course, Meta does, essentially, already gain individual permission for such, by incorporating this agreement into its lengthy terms and conditions. But the ruling indicates that this may not be clear enough under GDPR guidelines, and that Meta may need to gain more explicit consent for ad personalization moving forward.

In response, Meta has said that it plans to fight both the ruling and the fine, and that the judgment will not impede its processes in Europe.

As per Meta:

We strongly believe our approach respects GDPR, and we’re therefore disappointed by these decisions and intend to appeal both the substance of the rulings and the fines.”

In regards to potential restrictions of its operations, Meta notes that it uses ‘a combination of legal bases to provide various services’, which means that even if the ruling is upheld, it’ll still be able to deliver personalized ads in the region.

“It’s important to note that these decisions do not prevent personalized advertising on our platform. The decisions relate only to which legal basis Meta uses when offering certain advertising. Advertisers can continue to use our platforms to reach potential customers, grow their business and create new markets.”

Meta says that it has long relied on a legal basis called ‘Contractual Necessity’ to show people personalized ads in its apps, but now, EU officials are pushing it to change its approach. Which, in Meta’s view, won’t restrict it from its regular operations, it will just change the legal clause under which it potentially operates. 

The decisions do not mandate the use of Consent – another available legal basis under GDPR – for this processing. Similar businesses use a selection of legal bases to process data, and we are assessing a variety of options that will allow us to continue offering a fully personalized service to our users. The suggestion that personalized ads can no longer be offered by Meta across Europe unless each user’s agreement has first been sought is incorrect.

So, effectively, in Meta’s view at least, it will continue to offer personalized ads in the same way that it always has. It may just need to clarify exactly how it goes about it – which should have little impact on users and advertisers themselves.

But it’s more regulatory work for Meta, and more provisions and processes added by the GDPR framework. Which is good, in theory, and provides more data protections for EU users. But in practical application, it’s hard to say whether the whole GDPR push has actually been of significant benefit, on balance.

Either way, Meta will now have three months to respond to the EU ruling, which, as Meta notes, will see it appeal, and potentially re-align its usage terms around another legal clause in the region.

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