Meta suggests it may have to shut down Facebook and Instagram in the European Union (EU) if it’s no longer able to transfer data across the Atlantic between Europe and the US. While the suggestion appears to just be posturing, some top politicians in Europe seem almost hilariously unphased by the proposition.
Meta’s suggestion was quietly mentioned in the company’s annual report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission last week. The remarks regard new EU legalization currently being drawn up that would require data processing service providers to set up safeguards against illegal data transfers to non-EU governments.
“If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted and we are unable to continue to rely on SCCs 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,” the reports reads. It adds that this would significantly impact their business and finances.
In July 2020, Europe's top court struck down the transatlantic data transfer deal known as the Privacy Shield. The EU and the US have been looking to reach a new accord, but no solid agreement has yet been found. To put it simply: the US is very keen to freely trade data with the EU, but the EU wants to be tough on data security.
In a statement given to CNBC, a Meta spokesperson said the company has no desire or immediate plans to withdraw any services from Europe. However, they added 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.”
Meta has had some tension with the EU before over the issue of data protection. In 2020, an EU privacy regulator sent the company (then known only as Facebook) a preliminary order to suspend data transfers to the US about its EU users. Friction was caused, but Facebook continued to operate in the EU.
Across the Atlantic in Europe, politicians don’t appear to be backing down, nor seem too worried about any indications that Meta may pull out of the EU in the future.
“Meta cannot just blackmail the EU into giving up its data protection standards, leaving the EU would be their loss,” tweeted Axel Voss, German lawyer and a member of the European Parliament.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck went further with his criticism, telling reporters at an event in Paris on Monday: “After being hacked I’ve lived without Facebook and Twitter for four years and life has been fantastic,” according to Bloomberg.
“[The EU] is such a big internal market with so much economic power that if we act in unity we won’t be intimidated by something like this,” continued Habeck.
“I can confirm that life is very good without Facebook and that we would live very well without Facebook,” added French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. “Digital giants must understand that the European continent will resist and affirm its sovereignty.”