European privacy officials widen ban on Meta's behavioral advertising to most of Europe

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — European officials widened a ban on Meta’s “behavioral advertising” practices to most of Europe on Wednesday, setting up a broader conflict between the continent’s privacy-conscious institutions and an American technology giant.

Behavioral advertising, used by Meta’s Facebook and Instagram among many other tech companies, involves observing individual behavior such as browsing habits, mouse clicks and app usage, then using that data to build profiles for targeting ads.

The decision by the European Data Protection Board represents a sharp escalation of a tussle that began in Norway, where privacy officials imposed a daily fine of 1 million kroner (roughly $90,000) on Meta for obtaining that data without adequate consent. Those fines have been piling up since August 14.

Meta said it has cooperated with regulators and pointed to its announced plans to give Europeans the opportunity to consent to data collection and, later this month, to offer an ad-free subscription service in Europe that will cost 9.99 euros ($10.59) a month for access to all its products. The latest decision “unjustifiably ignores that careful and robust regulatory process,” the company said in a statement following the European board’s action.

Tobias Judin, head of the international section at the Norwegian Data Protection Authority, said Meta’s proposed steps likely won’t meet European legal standards. For instance, he said, consent would have to be freely given, which wouldn’t be the case if existing users had to choose between giving up their privacy rights or paying a financial penalty in the form of a subscription.

“Meta’s business model is at odds with the law and users’ fundamental rights, and Meta will not back down willingly,” Judin said via email. “They continue with their unlawful activities to this very day, simply because breaking the law is so profitable.”

Meta has been under fire over data privacy for some time. In May, for example, the EU slapped Meta with a record $1.3 billion fine and ordered it to stop transferring users’ personal information across the Atlantic by October. And the tech giant’s new text-based app, Threads, has not rolled out in the EU due to regulatory concerns.

Meta is also among the companies that the EU is targeting under new digital rules aimed at reining in the market power of tech giants. In addition to the Facebook owner, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Google parent Alphabet and TikTok parent ByteDance were classified in early September as online “gatekeepers” that must face the highest level of scrutiny under the 27-nation bloc’s Digital Markets Act.

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