This article was published on May 31, 2024

Why Spain just banned Meta’s new EU election voting features

Zuckerberg's in the EU's naughty books — again

Why Spain just banned Meta’s new EU election voting features

Spain’s privacy watchdog has barred Meta from launching two features on Facebook and Instagram that the tech giant says were intended to encourage users to vote in the upcoming EU elections. 

The tools, dubbed Election Day Information (EDI) and Voter Information Unit (VIU), would send notifications to all eligible Instagram and Facebook users in the EU, reminding them to vote. 

Both features were set to be rolled out imminently across the EU (except for in Italy, which already has an ongoing dispute with Meta over the matter).

You’d assume that the more people that vote, the better for democracy. But Spain’s data protection agency, AEPD, believes the new features violate Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).

The new functionalities would require users to input personal data including their name, IP address, age, and gender. Meta claims this data gathering is essential in determining whether a user is eligible to vote or not. 

“Our election tools have been expressly designed to respect users’ privacy and comply with the GDPR. While we disagree with the AEPD’s assessment in this case, we have cooperated with their request,” a Meta spokesperson told Reuters.  

However, AEPD said it is “totally disproportionate in relation to the supposed purpose of informing about the elections” and would “put at risk and rights and freedoms of Instagram and Facebook users.”

Users would see an increase in the volume of information Meta collects about them, allowing for more complex, detailed and exhaustive profiling, and generating more intrusive processing,” said AEPD

The Spanish watchdog added Meta had not justified the need for storing the data after the election, which “reveals an additional purpose for the processing operation.”

The AEPD is using emergency powers contained within the GDPR to act swiftly to protect online users within Spain. 

Under the rules, a temporary order of this kind can last up to three months. But with the elections taking place next week from June 6-9, the ban won’t need to be in place for all that long to be effective.

Meta has repeatedly gotten into trouble with EU regulators over how it gathers and handles user data. The Big Tech company has amassed €2.5bn worth of fines across seven separate penalties, most of which were to do with breaching the GDPR. 

Back in April, the EU also opened an investigation into Facebook and Instagram under the bloc’s Digital Services Act for allegedly breaking the election integrity rules for large online platforms.

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