Meta – the parent company of Facebook and Instagram – has been hit with a £1 billion fine for improperly handling user data when transferring it between Europe and the USA.
The issue revolves around disparities between the privacy laws in Europe and America. Currently, data can be stored, processed and transferred with significantly fewer checks in America than it can here – and the fines for not doing it properly are much smaller. Of course, this presents an issue when data from Europe (where laws are much tighter) is transferred across the Atlantic.
These inconsistencies are a large part of why the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) was originally set up – to provide assurances to European consumers that their data would not only be kept private from crooks, thieves or ‘bad actors’, but also the overseas governments as well.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has long accused Washington of having insufficient checks in place to protect information. This belief was echoed by Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC), which accused Meta of mishandling user data and subsequently issued the largest fine ever imposed under GDPR.
Meta’s defence hinged on its use of standard contractual clauses (SCCs) in the process of transferring data. These clauses, it claimed, were widely used elsewhere without punishment – meaning that Meta had been unfairly singled out.
In fact, Facebook president Nick Clegg used those exact words, telling bbc.co.uk how the social network had been: “singled out when using the same legal mechanism as thousands of other companies looking to provide services in Europe.”
He added that the decision is: “flawed, unjustified and sets a dangerous precedent.”
Critics of Meta, however, have claimed the figure was justified – and potentially not even enough; some had anticipated an even larger fine.
Whilst this decision does not currently impact Facebook’s operations in the UK, the Information Commissioner’s Office told the BBC that it had “noted the decision” and would review the details “in due course”.