Meta’s Threads Won't Launch in EU Due to Privacy Concerns
Threads, Meta’s rival to Twitter that was released on July 6th, has sparked privacy concerns around the platform’s business model of tracking web users for advertising. These concerns raise doubts about the app's potential launch in the EU, where Meta's claimed legal basis for processing Facebook users' data was considered unlawful earlier this year.
According to the iOS app, Threads collects a diverse array of user data such as health and fitness information, purchase and financial details, location, contact information, user-generated content, search and browsing history, identifiers, usage data, sensitive information, and diagnostics.
Meta has relied on legitimate interest as its legal basis for data-for-ads processing. However, the EU's top court recently declared this basis unsuitable for Meta's behavioral ads. Current EU law stipulates that processing sensitive information — such as health data — requires the users’ consent. Yet, Meta currently doesn't offer users a general choice to refuse tracking or seek permission to share health data with advertisers.
Threads will not be launched in the EU for now, and Meta's concerns regarding the Digital Markets Act (DMA) may cause further delays. While the Data Protection Commission (DPC) in Ireland clarified that it has not prevented Meta from launching Threads based on GDPR compliance, Meta's hesitation suggests a fear of legal risks when subject to the DMA. It's worth noting that Google postponed the launch of its AI chatbot, Bard, in the EU for similar reasons.
In January, Meta was fined over $410 million for its lack of a legal basis for behavioral ads on Facebook and Instagram. Under the DMA, penalties can reach up to 10% of global annual turnover, higher than the maximum penalties under the GDPR. However, fines imposed on tech giants for GDPR breaches have typically been a fraction of the maximum amount, including in Meta's case.
In contrast, Threads’ UK launch went ahead as planned. Although the UK still has similar data protection requirements post-Brexit, its regulatory stance and plans to weaken data protection standards may present a lower legal risk for Meta.