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    European Court of Justice shares opinion on Meta ads targeting users based on sexuality

    The Advocate General of the European Court of Justice has opined that large platforms like Meta should not target users with personalised ads by processing their personal data such as sexuality, if it is made public. Additionally, Advocate General Athanasios Rantos also deliberated on the time period in which a large digital platform can collect data under the mandates of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

    Though the opinion is not legally binding, it adds to the scrutiny Meta’s targeted advertising model has faced in the EU.

    Schrems lawsuit against Meta

    In 2020, Maximilian Schrems, an activist in the field of data protection, filed a lawsuit against Meta for its targeted advertising practices. Shrems who had consented to Meta collecting his data through its advertising model, claimed that he received advertisements and invitations to events based on his sexuality. He believed that his data was processed unlawfully and argued that the advertisements were not based directly on his sexual orientation but on an analysis of his interests. In the past, Schrems has won multiple cases against Meta for violating privacy under the GDPR.

    Schrems’ lawyer, Katharina Raabe-Stuppnig said in a statement,

    “This issue is highly relevant for anyone who makes a public statement. Do you retroactively waive your right to privacy for even totally unrelated information, or can only the statement itself be used for the purpose intended by the speaker? If the Court interprets this as a general ‘waiver’ of your rights, it would chill any online speech on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter.”

    In 2020, the Austrian Courts heard the case and referred a series of questions to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Courts questioned whether there were restrictions to the time period and nature of data that could be processed by large digital platforms under Article 5(1)(c) of the GDPR. Further, the courts asked if  Article 5(1)(b) in conjunction with Article 9(2)(e), could be interpreted to mean that any personal data, such as sexuality, made public can be processed for personalized ads. This is the case Advocate Rantos was dealing with.

    What did Advocate Rantos say?

    While the GDPR calls for the protection of personal data such as sexuality, Rantos noted that it did not apply to data that was “manifestly made public” as was Schrems’ sexuality, and no longer non-public. Yet, Rantos also said that the simple public availability of personal information such as sexuality, “does not in itself permit the processing of those data for the purposes of personalised advertising.”

    Rantos also considered whether a large digital platform such as Meta must process personal data for personalized advertising in a specific timeframe. Rantos stated that the time period and amount of data that a large digital platform can process data must be deliberated on a case-by-case basis and must consider the principle of proportionality under the GDPR.

    Criticisms of Meta’s advertising models

    Meta’s personalized advertising model has faced severe scrutiny under the EU, following the enforcement of the GDPR. In 2023, the Ireland Data Protection Commission (DPC) imposed a fine of 390 million euros on the company for attempting to “bypass” the consent requirement in the GDPR by adding a clause to the terms and conditions for advertisement. Using personal data for targeted advertising was made illegal as a consequence of this.

    In recent times, Meta’s ‘Pay or consent’ model which was introduced in response to the GDPR has also been criticised in the EU. The model requires users to pay for a version of Meta without ads or “consent” to Meta processing their data for ads. Recently,  the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) published its opinion on ‘Pay or Consent’. It questioned if, under Meta’s advertising model, consent was truly “freely given” as mandated by the GDPR.

    The opinion of the Advocate General of the CJEU further puts pressure on Meta to amend their data processing practices for personalized advertising.

    Also Read:

    The post European Court of Justice shares opinion on Meta ads targeting users based on sexuality appeared first on MediaNama.

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