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Facebook and Instagram say new changes could force them to stop working in Europe

Adam Smith
·3-min read
 (Brett Jordan)
(Brett Jordan)

Facebook might not be able to provide its platforms in Europe under new regulatory changes, it has threatened.

The company said it would not be able operate on the continent if it cannot move user data between Europe and the United States.

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner had suggested that it would enforce a European Court of Justice ruling that would mean such data transfers would breach General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

“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.

“The above views, if adopted, are likely to have significant diverse effects on [Facebook] and on the many millions of individuals and businesses who use its services”, it also says.

The company claims 410 million monthly active users in Europe, including charities, organisations, politicians, and other public figures.

Around 25 million businesses apparently use its business in Europe as of January 2020.

Cunnane accused the regulators of bias against Facebook, and said that the three week time period during which the company could make submissions against the ruling “will give little weight to those submissions and that they will not dislodge, or be capable of lodging, the view which has already been arrived at” by the commission.

She also says that the implications of the judgement are wide-ranging, and that a one-size-fits-all apparently cannot be taken.

“I believe and am advised that it is neither fair nor appropriate that [Facebook] should be the only entity subject to investigation and to face the possible suspension of data transfers to the US” it continues.

“Facebook is not threatening to withdraw from Europe. Legal documents filed with the Irish High Court set out the simple reality that Facebook, and many other businesses, organisations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate their services”, the company said in a statement.

“A lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would damage the economy and hamper the growth of data-driven businesses in the EU, just as we seek a recovery from COVID-19”.

The Independent has reached out to the Irish DPC for comment.

Whether or not Facebook will indeed disable its services in Europe remains to be seen, but privacy experts have alleged that it would not.

“The idea that Facebook would withdraw from the European market is absurd brinksmanship that I don’t think anyone truly believes,” Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London, told Vice.

Facebook is not the only company with concerns over moving users’ data.

Following Brexit, Google users in Britain are no longer protected by GDPR and therefore user data will be moved to the United States.

Google claims that the change would not see any difference in data protection standards, something that is rebuked by privacy activists.

“Moving people's personal information to the USA makes it easier for mass surveillance programmes to access it," said Jim Killock, executive director of Open Rights Group, to The Independent.

"There is nearly no privacy protection for non-US citizens.”

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