Meta clarifies stance on pulling Facebook and WhatsApp out of Europe

The company remained quiet on what it would do if there continues to be no EU-US data transfer agreement, however.

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Meta, formerly Facebook, has clarified the comments it made in an annual report about "likely" pulling Facebook and Instagram from Europe if it was prevented from transferring data from the EU to the US due to the lack of an international agreement.

The clarification was posted after the company's comments made headlines across some media outlets, with German Economy Minister Robert Habeck and French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire reportedly clapping back at Meta's "threat" by saying they would be okay with Facebook not having a presence in Europe.

In Meta's annual 10-K filing [PDF] to US regulators, the company wrote: "If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted … we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe."   

The "threat" regarding the lack of a data transfer framework came in response to the Safe Harbour Agreement and Privacy Shield, both being struck down by the European Court of Justice in recent years. The agreements were struck down due to the court's concerns regarding what happens to the data of EU citizens when it is moved to US-based servers.  

In a blog post, Meta Europe public policy VP Markus Reinisch said his company is "absolutely not threatening to leave Europe".

"Meta is not wanting or 'threatening' to leave Europe and any reporting that implies we do is simply not true. Much like 70 other EU and US companies, we are identifying a business risk resulting from uncertainty around international data transfers," Reinisch said.

"We want to see the fundamental rights of EU users protected, and we want the internet to continue to operate as it was intended: without friction, in compliance with applicable laws -- but not confined by national borders."  

While Reinisch said Meta did not threaten to leave Europe, the clarification does not mean the company has confirmed Facebook and WhatsApp are staying in Europe either, according to Rob Nicholls, University of New South Wales associate professor and competition policy expert.

"Meta's walk back is not 'we're going to stay in Europe, come what may, it's more that we were pointing out risks rather than necessarily what we would do'," Nicholls said. 

On the same day, Meta's Oversight Board advised the social network to change its policy regarding the accessibility of a person's address, even if it is considered "publicly available".

Detailed in a 17-point plan, the Oversight Board said Meta's "publicly available" exception should be removed. The exception allows a person's address to be made public through news coverage, court filings, press releases, or other sources. The recommendation was made due to concerns about harms resulting from doxing.

"As the potential for harm is particularly context specific, it is challenging to develop objective and universal indicators that would allow content reviewers to distinguish the sharing of content that would be harmful from shares that would not be. That is why the Board believes that the Privacy Violations policy should be more protective of privacy," the Oversight Board said.

Meta is not required to implement the recommendations, but it must respond to the plan in the next 60 days.

The media debacle and advisory plan follow a horror week for the tech giant, wherein it lost over a quarter of its valuesold off its crypto foray Diemforecast a $10 billion hit from upcoming iOS changes, and received its first-ever criminal charges.

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