Spain bans Meta from launching election features on Facebook, Instagram over privacy fears

Meta has been prohibited from rolling out features on Facebook and Instagram in Spain that aimed to gather voter data ahead of the European Elections next month. The local data protection authority, AEPD, has invoked emergency powers to safeguard the privacy of local users. Meta has confirmed compliance with the order, which can remain in effect for up to three months.

In a statement regarding the “precautionary measure,” the AEPD outlined its directive for Meta to halt the implementation of Election Day Information and Voter Information Unit features in Spain. This directive prohibits “the collection and processing of data implied by their use,” as translated from Spanish.

The AEPD is leveraging emergency powers within Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to address local concerns. Although Ireland’s Data Protection Commission serves as Meta’s lead GDPR supervisory authority, the EU regulation empowers any data protection authority to intervene in urgent user protection matters within their jurisdiction.

The AEPD’s decision stems from exceptional circumstances necessitating measures to prevent data collection, user profiling, and information transfer to third parties without explicit consent. The Spanish DPA worries that Meta’s proposed election-related features may breach GDPR provisions, including those concerning lawful processing and data minimization.

Under the GDPR, political views are categorized as “special category” data, requiring explicit user consent for processing. According to the AEPD, Meta plans to process personal data such as user names, IP addresses, age, gender, and interactions with election-related functionalities. The AEPD argues that Meta’s data collection plans pose a significant risk to users’ rights and freedoms, potentially enabling the creation of detailed profiles and intrusive data treatments.

Meta contends that its election tools prioritize user privacy and GDPR compliance. Despite disagreeing with the AEPD’s assessment, Meta has cooperated with the directive.

The Spanish DPA notes that Meta intended to launch the blocked election-related features for all users eligible to vote in the European elections, except in Italy, where a similar matter is under investigation by the data protection authority. Meta’s activities are also under scrutiny by the European Commission for their preparedness for the upcoming EU elections, with an ongoing investigation into potential breaches of election integrity rules under the bloc’s Digital Services Act.

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