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Meta threatens a shutdown of Facebook and Instagram in Europe

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Man do Europeans have it good.

Buried in Meta’s dense annual report for the Securities and Exchange Commission, filed Thursday, is a surprisingly stark sentence laying out a scenario in which The Company Formerly Known as Facebook might have to entirely stop operating Instagram and Facebook in Europe. Yep, no Instagram, no Facebook, for all Europeans. 

To which we as Americans can only say: Luckyyyyyyyyyy!!!!

At issue are European data regulations that prevent Meta from ingesting Europeans’ data on American servers. Basically, Meta says the ability to process user data in between countries is crucial for its business both operationally and for ad targeting. European laws meant to protect user privacy by keeping users’ data within the EU’s jurisdiction have invalidated previous systems. So, because Meta has been unable to reach new data sharing agreements, it’s threatening to walk away from the continent with Facebook and Instagram.

“​If we are unable to transfer data between and among countries and regions in which we operate, or if we are restricted from sharing data among our products and services, it could affect our ability to provide our services, the manner in which we provide our services or our ability to target ads,” the statement reads. Then, Meta clarifies that it thinks it will be able to reach new agreements in 2022, but if it does not, “we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe.”

The London financial newspaper CityAM reached out to Meta to see if they were, uh, reading that right. Meta responded with a statement from the company’s illustrious VP of Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, who attempted to connect the plight of a billion-dollar international conglomerate Meta with struggles small businesses could face.

“We urge regulators to adopt a proportionate and pragmatic approach to minimise disruption to the many thousands of businesses who, like Facebook, have been relying on these mechanisms in good faith to transfer data in a safe and secure way,” Clegg told CityAm.

Frankly not being able to access Facebook or Instagram — just poof, gone — sounds like a dream. But, for better or worse, many businesses rely on Facebook and Instagram ads to connect with customers and sell their products. Because of the impact the platforms’ removal would have on European businesses, a continent without these main social media players is probably unlikely. An SEC annual statement’s job is to lay out the challenges and opportunities in a company’s financial outlook — but it’s also a convenient way to send a message. 

So for European lawmakers, the scenario seems like a threat. But for us regular folks wishing there was something that could untether us from mindless scrolling? C’mon, Meta, make that threat a promise.

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