Complaint form photo

European privacy group files complaints against Meta’s AI data scraping

A European privacy group has filed complaints against Meta (NASDAQ: META) in Germany, France and nine other countries over its plans to train its artificial intelligence (AI) models using users’ data.

Austrian privacy rights activist group NOYB took aim at Meta over a recent change to its privacy policy that allows it to tap on users’ posts to “help develop and improve AI.” Meta revealed the change to its European Facebook and Instagram users a week ago and said it would take effect on June 26.

Users can opt out of having their data used in AI training, but they have no control over data that appears in photos or posts by other users.

The announcement immediately sparked concerns over whether the company would violate the region’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). National regulators that questioned the company, such as Ireland’s Data Protection Commission, reportedly had all their concerns addressed.

However, one of Europe’s most ardent privacy groups says the move breaches GDPR.

“Meta is basically saying that it can use ‘any data from any source for any purpose and make it available to anyone in the world,’ as long as it’s done via ‘AI technology.’ This is clearly the opposite of GDPR compliance,” stated Max Schrems, the NOYB founder.

GDPR bars any company from processing personal data in the EU. However, it provides six legal bases for a company to apply for an exemption. The most common is opt-in consent, which allows users to opt-out at any time.

Instead, Meta is applying for exemption under “legitimate interest,” under which a company can disregard fundamental user rights for the greater good. It has attempted to access user data for personal advertising under this exemption, but NOYB took it to court, and the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled in the group’s favor.

Even if Meta claims that users can opt-in and out, Schrems argues that the company has made it “absurdly difficult” for users. While most companies require one click to opt in, Meta is taking the choice away and, instead, requiring users to opt-out through a complicated process.

On the Irish DPC reportedly being satisfied with Meta’s new policy, Schrems says the regulator has a documented past of allowing the company to violate European rules. In one such instance, the company was forced to pay a $426 million fine after regional regulators overruled the Irish watchdog.

The Vienna-based NOYB has filed complaints against Meta’s privacy violations in 11 countries, including Spain, Germany, France, Italy and Belgium. It has requested regulators to treat the complaints under the “urgency procedure” as the deadline for the new privacy policy is in under three weeks.

NOYB is one of the world’s most prolific privacy rights advocacy groups. It has filed over 800 lawsuits and complaints against global giants (most recently OpenAI), resulting in billions of dollars paid in fines. Its actions against Meta alone have led to $1.62 billion in administrative penalties.

Meta has long faced accusations of illegal data collection and processing in Europe. Earlier this year, the European Consumer Organization, a regional umbrella body for 45 consumer advocacy groups, revealed that eight of its members had filed complaints against the company for collecting an unnecessary amount of data from users.

Last year, the company was fined $1.3 billion for privacy violations and ordered to stop sending European user data to the United States. It was Europe’s most significant data law violation fine, dwarfing Amazon’s $806 fine in 2021.

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