Meta will not tremble at the size of the fine he has just received from the Turkish competition authority, which today announced a sanction of 346.72 million liras.
The roughly $18.6 million fine pales in comparison to a number of recent stings from European regulators. Such as the $267 million fine imposed on WhatsApp in the European Union just over a year ago – for violations of the transparency of the bloc’s data protection framework; or the $70 million spank a year ago from the UK competition authority after it said Meta failed to comply with inquiries during the investigation into the Giphy purchase. It was then ordered by the UK CMA to undo that takeover as well, so the whole sad saga will likely cost it significantly more.
There are also many more data protection complaints looming over his head, such as the one targeting EU-US data flows that could be ordered in the coming months to suspend those transfers – essentially shutting down service in Europe. – unless an imminent replacement for the defunct Privacy Shield framework can be introduced first.
Still, it’s the gist of the Turkish fine — that Meta occupies a dominant position on social media and tried to thwart competitors by combining data between separate services it operates — that is likely to send the social networking giant a shiver as its company continues to profile people. And that relies on its ability to get people’s data and work out detailed ad profiles. So any regulatory roadblock that stands in the way of the ability to conduct unfettered surveillance of Internet users poses an existential threat to the core microtargeting ad model.
The Turkish action is also striking, because the German competition regulator has been working on a similar concern for years.
It began investigating Facebook’s “super profiling” as early as March 2016 — then confirmed an abuse finding in a February 2019 injunction that concluded that the company’s trampling on user privacy amounted to “exploitative abuse” and a violation of his dominant position in social networks. That’s why the German FCO ordered Facebook to stop combining data about users of different products. But Meta appealed and an enforcement battle over that previous German data separation order continues.
The appeal was referred to the bloc’s highest court in March 2021 and is still pending a ruling (probably next year). But an opinion from the CJEU’s influential adviser last month favored allowing antitrust authorities to consider data protection compatibility as part of their assessment of competition rules – which, if the court follows the AG’s position. , would be bad news for Meta across the EU, as it would open the door for more competition watchdogs to get a non-segregated, ‘big picture’, comprehensive view of what it does when assessing any antitrust issues.
There is, therefore, a growing sense that international regulators are — gradually, inexorably — approaching Meta’s legacy to act quickly and break things (or, as a better description of his mode of operationsucking up all the data and merging it into a huge data lake far from the reach of any user control, per leaked internal documents).
“By combining the data collected by [Meta] of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp services… it causes the deterioration of competition by making it difficult for competitors with personal social networking services operating in online display advertising markets and creates barriers to market entry,” the Turkish Competition Authority wrote in a decision published today — following an investigation — explaining its decision to impose an administrative fine [the decision text is in Turkish; we’ve translated it here using machine translation].
The authority’s investigation was launched last year after a controversial change to WhatsApp’s terms and conditions caused a major blow to privacy worldwide. And consumer protection regulators in Europe remain concerned about the T&Cs confusing consumers. So there could be more enforcement on that front as well. (In addition to the massive fine for GDPR “transparency” mentioned above – and potentially more GDPR enforcement on a backlog of complaints still being cleared by the tech giant’s leading data protection regulator in the EU.)
The Turkish competition authority unanimously ruled that Meta occupies a dominant position in the social media market and unanimously concluded that its behavior violated local competition laws.
In addition to being fined, the tech giant has been ordered to cease the violation – and establish “effective competition in the market” – with a one-month deadline to notify the authority of the steps. who will take it to do that; and up to six months (from today’s decision) for implementation of the measures, once approved.
Meta has also been instructed to report to the regulator for a period of five years on the measures it is taking.
The tech giant was contacted for comment on the Turkish authority’s sanction. A Meta spokesperson emailed this short line — but didn’t confirm whether or not it will object:
“We do not agree with the findings of the Turkish Competition Authority. We protect the privacy of our users and provide people with transparency and control over their data. We will consider all our options.”
One thing is clear: Meta’s company faces costly regulatory raids on multiple fronts – threatening its ability to hold onto the world’s attention by ignoring privacy laws; threatening its ability to do so by acquiring/assimilating other companies to collect data in that way (and threatening its ability to combine data with separate services it already owns); and threaten its ability to attempt to circumvent this legacy regulatory reckoning by skating its business to where it thinks the puck is going (aka “the metaverse”) — by blocking its ability to use its market power to Buying up VR startups that are seeing some nascent success (in what could be overhyped vaporware, anyway).
In addition, the emergence of more coherent regulatory thinking will only deepen these breaches.
Throw in Apple’s recent flex against the scourge of smartphone apps being tacitly repurposed as surveillance ad tentacles (aka App Tracking Transparency); and a series of incoming legislation (such as the EU’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act) that will further narrow advertising giants’ room for maneuver — and it certainly looks like Meta founder Mark Zuckerberg had more reason than most people will have to put on a pair of VR goggles and float away in search of some digital escapism for years to come…