The GDPR let us know that Europe is serious about data protection and privacy. Websites all across the world were readjusted for these regulations. Facebook, though, seems to think it should be free to do with customer data as it wishes, but it’s not okay with Ireland’s Data Protection Commission. This has left Facebook to say it may be forced to end operations in Europe if it’s not allowed to transfer data around the world as it wishes.
Facebook’s Court Filing in Dublin
To be clear, while this does concern the protection of data, it is not being called a violation of the GDPR. A preliminary order was delivered by the Irish DPC in August that would stop the transfer of data about European customers to servers in the United States. This is due to concerns about data surveillance by the U.S. government.
Facebook turned around and filed a lawsuit to challenge the ban. In a sworn affidavit that was filed this week, it accused the Irish data-protection commissioner of bias and a lack of fairness, noting that similar tech companies weren’t being asked to do the same. It added that this ruling would force it to abandon operations in Europe and leave 410 million Facebook and Instagram users without the services.
“It is not clear to [Facebook] how, in those circumstances, it could continue to provide the Facebook and Instagram services in the EU,” wrote Yvonne Cunnane, Facebook Ireland’s head of data protection and associate general counsel, in a sworn affidavit.
Cunnane further complains that Facebook was only given three weeks to respond to the ruling by the Irish DPC. She refers to that timeline as “manifestly inadequate” and says the social network wasn’t even contacted before the ruling.
There are additional concerns about this ruling being made unilaterally by Ireland’s data protection commissioner, Helen Dixon. “The fact one person is responsible for the entire process is relevant to [Facebook’s] concerns, in respect of the inadequacy of the investigative process engaged in and independence of the ultimate decision-making process,” wrote Cunnane.
There is also a complaint that Facebook is the only big tech company called out, yet Cunnane complains others use similar methods to transfer data from the EU to the U.S.
“This gives rise to an apprehension that [Facebook] is not being treated equally,” Cunnane alleges. “If [Facebook] alone is being investigated and subject to a suspension of data transfers to the U.S., this would be liable to create a serious distortion of competition.”
A Facebook spokesperson cooled the language slightly, claiming, “Facebook is not threatening to withdraw from Europe.” Cunnane’s court filing simply explains that “Facebook, and many other businesses, organizations, and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate their services.”
Fallout of Facebook’s Court Filing
A judge allowed this challenge of Facebook’s and put a stay on the ban on data transfers, yet the DPC can challenge the decision if it chooses to.
Cunnane also mentioned that 410 million in Europe use Facebook and Instagram for their freedom of expression. Additionally, the company generated €208 billion in sales for companies that use the social media site for business.
The Facebook business model transfers data across the world, and that allows it to target users with pointed, specific ads. If it’s not allowed to transfer data to the U.S., it will affect the company’s revenue.
A technology policy researcher at University College London, Michael Veale, told VICE News, “The idea that Facebook would withdraw from the European market is absurd brinkmanship that I don’t think anyone truly believes.”
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