In a world dominated by Big Tech, every user's interaction on platforms such as Instagram is under observation and will be used to serve you ads. While you browse your feed, algorithms are silently collecting data about your preferences, behaviors, and more. For companies like Meta, this data is more than just information—it's gold.
Meta's Surveillance Advertising
When you watch a video or scroll through posts on platforms like Instagram, you're not just a passive observer. Behind the scenes, Meta’s algorithms are working tirelessly to analyze your activities. These might encompass your comments, the hashtags you employ, the content of unencrypted messages, and the duration you spend on particular posts.
When aggregated, this data can unveil intimate details about a user. It can reveal everything from their musical inclinations to more personal aspects like menstrual cycles. As Tobias Judin of Norway’s Datatilsynet (the nation's privacy watchdog) elucidates, this data paints a comprehensive portrait of a user's online conduct. In Meta's hands, this data morphs into a tool for behavioral advertising, tailoring ads based on a user's online activity.
Europe's Fight for Consent
The European legal system has consistently held that Meta must secure explicit user consent before leveraging such data for ads. Norway, however, took this fight a notch higher in July by declaring Meta's method of behavioral advertising as unlawful.
Threatened with a daily fine of $100,000, Meta had until August 4 to amend its ways. In a rather discreet move, the company announced its intention to comply just three days before the deadline.
Judin remains skeptical, questioning the authenticity of Meta's voluntary change. In his eyes, Meta’s history shows a preference for profits over user privacy, unless explicitly forced otherwise.
A Pioneering Step by Norway
This decision by Norway, while audacious, is not isolated. The European Data Protection Board and the EU Court of Justice had already challenged Meta's justifications for such advertising. Norway's firm stance was the catalyst that finally pushed the tech giant into compliance.
Max Schrems of NOYB, a privacy campaign group based in Vienna, applauds Norway's rigorous enforcement of the law, contrasting it with the more lax approach of other European data protection agencies. He underscores that while Meta's intent to ask European users for consent is a given under the GDPR, the bigger concern is the company's blatant disregard for the law over the past five years.
Concerns and Implications
While Judin appreciates Meta's commitment to offer users more choice regarding their data, he stresses the importance of genuine consent, free from any subtle coercion. He asserts that Datatilsynet will be closely monitoring Meta's implementation of these changes.
Meanwhile, the financial implications are mounting for Meta. Reuters reported a daily fine of 1 million crowns (equivalent to $98,500) imposed by Datatilsynet from August 14 over privacy infringements. While Meta signaled intentions to seek user consent in the EU for targeted advertising, Judin contended that it falls short of expectations. The data processing must cease immediately until a legitimate consent mechanism is operational.
The fight for user privacy is more pertinent than ever. Norway's stance against a behemoth like Meta not only underscores the nation's commitment to its citizens' privacy but also sets a precedent for others to follow.