Several dozen news media in Spain have filed a lawsuit worth more than €500 million against social media giant Meta, alleging that its advertising revenues are generated unlawfully.
The Spanish Media Association (AMI) has filed the suit in a Madrid commercial court, claiming that Meta’s personalised advertising strategy, which relies on users’ data, does not respect EU regulations. This gives the company, which owns social media platforms Facebook and Instagram, an unfair advantage over news media in the advertising market, the AMI argues.
The association, which represents 83 titles including leading newspapers such as El País, El Mundo and La Vanguardia, is demanding €550 million in compensation for lost earnings.
The claim dates back to May of 2018, when new EU data protection rules were introduced, making it obligatory for companies to request permission from visitors to their sites for their data to be processed. The AMI says that Meta did not implement this rule on its platforms, allowing it to harvest personal data and meaning that “100 per cent of the technological giant’s revenues derived from the sale of targeted advertising have been obtained illegitimately.”
In May, the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), which regulates across the EU, fined Meta €1.2 billion for transferring personal data of Facebook users from the EU to the United States.
“At a time where the internet is fracturing under pressure from authoritarian regimes, like-minded democracies should work together to promote and defend the idea of the open internet,” Meta said in response to that sanction, arguing that “[No] country has done more than the US to align with European rules.”
In July, Meta faced another blow when the European Court of Justice upheld a decision by German regulators preventing the company from gathering data across its platforms without receiving explicit consent from users.
The Spanish lawsuit dates until the middle of this year, since when Meta has introduced a new subscription service for EU Facebook users, which it believes avoids data protection breaches.
A 2021 report by Spain’s CNMC stock market regulator estimated that Facebook and Google controlled a 70 per cent share of Spain’s annual online advertising market, worth a total of €3.45 billion in 2019.
“These figures are truly remarkable, given that this is a market which has emerged in the last 20 years and in which there are not sufficient regulatory limits,” the CNMC found.
The €550 million the AMI is demanding is based on both Meta’s income growth from advertising during the five-year period in question and an estimate of how much Spanish media would have earned without the company’s allegedly unlawful advertising practices.
The association warned that Meta’s practices “jeopardise the survival of the [Spanish] media, which is fundamental for the quality of a country’s democracy”. It also said that media is the second most digitalised industry in Spain, after the technology sector itself.