If Meta is not given the option to transfer, store and process data from its European users on US-based servers, Facebook and Instagram may be shut down across Europe, the social media giants’ owner reportedly warned in its annual report.
The key issue for Meta is transatlantic data transfers, regulated via the so-called Privacy Shield and other model agreements that Meta uses or used to store data from European users on American servers. The current agreements to enable data transfers are currently under heavy scrutiny in the EU.
In its annual report to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Meta warns that if a new framework is not adopted and the company is no longer allowed to use the current model agreements “or alternatives,” the company will “probably” no longer be able to offer many of its “most significant products and services,” including Facebook and Instagram, in the EU, according to various media reports, including in iTWire, The Guardian newspaper and Side Line Magazine.
Sharing data between countries and regions is crucial for the provision of its services and targeted advertising, Meta stressed.
Therefore, it previously used the transatlantic data transfer framework called Privacy Shield as the legal basis to carry out those data transfers.
However, this treaty was annulled by the European Court of Justice in July 2020, because of data protection violations. Since then, the EU and the US did stress they are working on a new or updated version of the treaty.
In addition to the Privacy Shield, Meta also uses model agreements, or Standard Contractual Clauses, as the primary legal basis for processing data from European users on American servers.
These model agreements are equally under scrutiny in Brussels and other parts of the EU.
The Irish Data Protection Commission told Meta in August 2020 that it had provisionally concluded that the use of the model agreements was not in line with the GDPR.
Processing the European data on American servers therefore had to be suspended by IDPC. However, this was merely a preliminary conclusion so, in effect, no change came about.
The company went to court to stop the injunction, but judges ruled that IDPC’s investigation could continue.
The watchdog’s final verdict is expected to be published in the first half of this year. Should IDPC indeed find that the model agreements are illegal, Meta may decide it is no longer feasible to offer some of its services across the EU.
Facebook has been approached for a response.