Facebook Says Data Rules May Leave It Unable to Operate in Europe

Amid a legal dispute over the transfer of EU data, Facebook said it may withdraw its platforms from the EU.

Facebook said that it may end operations of its core social media app and Instagram in Europe due to new regulations governing the transfer of data from the EU to America, Ireland’s Business Post first reported.

In an affidavit filed to Ireland’s high court on 10 September, Facebook sought to challenge a preliminary order issued earlier this month by the Data Protection Commission, Ireland’s data privacy watchdog. The order threatened to block Facebook from transferring data from the EU to the US, citing privacy concerns.

Noting that Facebook had 410 million active monthly users in Europe, Facebook Ireland’s head of data protection and associate general counsel Yvonne Cunnane wrote: “In the event that the Applicant were subject to a complete suspension of the transfer of users’ data to the US, as appears to be what the DPC proposes, it is not clear to the Applicant how, in those circumstances, it could continue to provide the Facebook and Instagram services in the EU.”

Facebook later denied that Cunnane’s statement constituted a threat to withdraw its services from the EU.

“Facebook is not threatening to withdraw from Europe,” a company spokesperson said. “Legal documents filed with the Irish High Court set out the simple reality 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.”

Like many other social media companies, Facebook’s business model is built largely on the compiling of its users’ data to allow them to be better targeted by advertisements. The interruption of its flow of data internationally would jeopardise its revenue.

However, the possibility that it might suspend its services in Europe has not been regarded as plausible by privacy experts. “The idea that Facebook would withdraw from the European market is absurd brinksmanship that I don’t think anyone truly believes,” said Michael Veale, a technology policy researcher at University College London, in a statement to VICE News.

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