Meta Hit with $600 Million Lawsuit in Spain Over Unfair Advertising Practices

A group representing 83 Spanish media outlets has filed a 550 million euro ($600 million) lawsuit against Facebook owner Meta Platforms, citing unfair competition in the advertising market in a case that could be replicated across the European Union. The AMI media association said in a statement on Monday that the newspapers filed the lawsuit collectively with a commercial court on Friday. It alleges Meta violated EU data protection rules between 2018 and 2023, granting it an unfair advantage in the market by using users’ personal information without explicit consent to craft personalized ads.

The lawsuit says Meta’s exploitation of user data has led to the loss of the “public interest” and jeopardized journalism’s ability to maintain a free and balanced press, undermining democracy. It aims to demand compensation for the damages suffered by the media and consumers and an order to stop Meta from violating the law.

Meta waited to respond to a request for comment sent out of regular business hours on Monday. The company faces several similar suits over how it uses data to target advertising, including a lawsuit filed in May by several states over Instagram’s impact on mental health and a lawsuit from a coalition of civil rights groups in the United States. In the latter, the groups seek financial penalties and injunctive relief to force the company to change its practices.

In the state case, the attorneys general say features such as infinite scroll and constant streams of alerts on Instagram and TikTok are hooking children and teens on its apps to the point of addiction and causing significant harm. They also accuse Meta of misleading investors and users by claiming the company had robust content policies, a stance that is at odds with a whistleblower’s testimony in September of 2021 that she told top executives about concerns about how the platforms were affecting young people’s mental health.

The attorney generals are seeking to impose fines under local consumer protection laws, but they also want the company to revamp how it uses data for advertising purposes. The settlement requires Meta to explicitly ask users for permission before collecting data and introduce paid versions of Facebook and Instagram that don’t collect advertising. The company will also develop a new system for housing ads that won’t discriminate based on protected characteristics under federal fair housing regulations.

The state lawsuit comes as lawmakers worldwide try to curb social media giants’ power by imposing new privacy and safety standards on them. Earlier this year, the state of Colorado passed a bill that would require companies like Instagram and TikTok to limit their advertising for minors and make it harder for them to keep them hooked on their apps with “psychologically manipulative” features. Amid growing public concern, lawmakers in the United States are considering introducing bills to require social media sites to boost transparency on their use of data.

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