(Preliminary) noyb WIN: Meta stops AI plans in the EU

Forced Consent & Consent Bypass
 /  14 June 2024

In response to 11 noyb complaints, the DPC has announced (late Friday afternoon) that Meta has committed to the DPC that it will not process EU/EEA user data for undefined "artificial intelligence techniques". Previously, Meta had argued that it had a "legitimate interest" in doing so. (Some) users were only notified about the change and given a (misleading and complicated) "opt-out".

Meta unhappy

DPC makes "U-turn" after initially approving Meta AI. While the DPC initially approved the introduction of Meta AI in the EU/EEA, it appears that other regulators have pushed back in recent days, causing the DPC to do a U-turn on its advice to Meta. The DPC has now announced:

"The DPC welcomes the decision by Meta to pause its plans to train its large language model using public content shared by adults on Facebook and Instagram across the EU/EEA. This decision followed intensive engagement between the DPC and Meta. The DPC, in co-operation with its fellow EU data protection authorities, will continue to engage with Meta on this issue."

There is so far no further context or information as to what this engagement looked like, or why the DPC changed its mind.

Pressure from noyb and local DPAs. The obvious explanation would be that after 11 complaints  by noyb and other organisations (such as the Norwegian Consumer Council) with various DPAs in Europe, and public reactions by EU/EEA DPAs in response to these complaints, the pressure on the DPC increased.

Max Schrems, chair of noyb: "We welcome this development but will monitor it closely. So far, there has been no official change to the Meta privacy policy that would make this commitment legally binding. The cases we have filed are ongoing and will require an official decision." 

Meta worried about EU users? Just ask for opt-in consent! As with all Meta messages, there is no shortage of reframing and disingenuous claims in this one. Meta emphasises that EU/EEA users will not be able to use AI services for the time being. However, this does not seem too logical. The GDPR allows for almost anything, as long as users give (valid) opt-in consent. Meta could therefore roll out AI technology in Europe if it only bothered to ask people for their consent. But it seems that Meta is doing everything it can to never get opt-in consent for any processing.

Max Schrems: "The Meta press release reads a bit like 'collective punishment'. If one European insists on his or her rights, the whole continent will not get our shiny new products. But Meta has every opportunity to deploy AI based on valid consent - it just chooses not to do so."

Announcement on Friday afternoon. As usual with defeats for big tech companies, this announcement comes on a Friday evening, when news is least likely to be picked up. It seems that Meta wants to play down the story - which could also affect its stock price.