A Spanish news media trade association representing many of the country’s largest newspapers has filed a €550 million lawsuit against Meta, alleging that the tech giant has come to its position of dominance in the ad market through illegitimate means. The trade group is seeking compensation for the massive harm it says has been done to the Spanish news industry as a result of Meta swallowing up ad dollars. And a lawyer representing the trade group said the lawsuit could be used as a blueprint for similar cases elsewhere in Europe.
The AMI, which represents 83 Spanish media outlets and counts Prisa, Vocento, Unidad Editorial, Henneo, and Prensa Ibérica among its members, says that Meta has systematically ignored its obligations under the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation. The group says that at least between May 25th, 2018 (when GDPR came into force) and July 31st this year, Meta has used personal data for advertising purposes across its platform without collecting consent to do so.
This in turn has fuelled Meta’s growth, allowing it to use this data to power ad targeting and measurement, which has given it an “illegitimately obtained competitive advantage”, according to the group. The API says that Meta’s behaviour means that 100 percent of the company’s income is derived from the illegitimate sale of targeted ads. News groups meanwhile have struggled for ad revenues, putting news media sustainability at risk.
Alongside filing the lawsuit and setting up other trade groups across the continent to do the same, the API has called for advertisers in both the public and private sectors to move their ad spend to “safe, reliable, and responsible media.”
A long list of litigation
The API looks to have a solid case behind its claim that Meta has used illegitimate techniques to collect data, based on previous rulings.
Earlier this year, Meta was hit with a €1.2 billion fine in relation to its transfers of personal data between the EU and US. In July, Europe’s highest court validated an order from Europe’s antitrust regulator for Meta to stop sharing data between its various apps in Germany. And just last month, the European Data Protection Board issued an urgent binding decision banning Meta from processing personal data for behavioural advertising on the legal bases of contract and legitimate interest across the entire European Economic Area, following a request from Norway’s Data Protection Authority.
In its announcement, the API didn’t specify which practices it was targeting – it could be a combination of the three mentioned above. Either way, Europe’s highest authorities and its various data protection bodies seem to agree that Meta hasn’t been playing by the rules since GDPR came into force.
What’s more debatable is whether Meta owes Spanish media businesses €550 million as a result of this breach. Meta would likely argue that news businesses have struggled due to wider market shifts, not just its own ad business. That’s likely why the API, in its announcement, highlighted recent data from the Spanish Ministry of Economy, which found that the media industry is the second most digitised sector in the Spanish economy, surpassed only by the tech sector itself. The publishers argue that they’ve been quick to adapt to life online, but haven’t been competing on an even playing field.
Another challenge for the publishers could be proving that their own consent collection practices have been GDPR compliant in the period covered by the lawsuit. A recent report from the UK’s data regulator said that many major publishers in the UK still don’t collect consent as they’re expected to under data laws. If similar practices are found in Spain, it could undermine the argument that news media businesses have suffered because they’ve been playing by the rules while Meta hasn’t been.
Regardless, the API’s lawsuit adds another legal headache to Meta’s long list of litigation it’s currently facing.