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Meta could make highly targeted ads opt-in, but only in Europe

Meta could make highly targeted ads opt-in, but only in Europe


Responding to EU regulators, the company says its proposal would take about three months to implement.

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Illustration by Nick Barclay / The Verge

Meta is proposing to make some of its personalized, targeted ads an up-front opt-in choice for users in the European Union, reports The Wall Street Journal. If the EU accepts Meta’s proposal, the company says it would need three months or more to let users choose whether to allow the company to target ads based on what they do within its social media services.

The company’s proposal aims to end its ongoing fight with the EU over its use of personal data for advertisements under European privacy laws, the Journal says. Right now, EU users of Meta’s platforms can opt out of this sort of targeting rather than choose to opt in. For those who opt out, the company still targets ads using some broader demographics data, such as users’ general location and their age range. Presumably, Meta’s new proposal still allows generalized targeting, but we’ll have to wait on the details to know for sure.

Meta’s once inexorable revenue growth faltered last year as ragged economic conditions and Apple’s “Ask App Not to Track” prompt limited how much data Meta’s services could gather from third-party apps. Regulations limiting the company’s targeting based on what users do within its own apps could be another significant hit to its main source of income.

Early this year, Ireland’s Data Protection Commission (DPC) fined Meta over $400 million for its handling of user data in both Instagram and Facebook. More recently, the DPC gave Meta a $1.3 billion penalty — a record amount for Europe — over its transfer of user data to the US, which the DPC said could violate citizens’ privacy under the GDPR. The EU and the US have since agreed on a framework for allowing tech companies to transfer and store user data in the US, provided they comply with the agreement’s privacy provisions.

The company’s new shortform posting app, Threads, was delayed in Europe due to “regulatory uncertainty” as Meta isn’t sure whether its app, which it says complies with the GDPR, also meets the requirements of the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA). The DMA requires that tech gatekeepers avoid “self-preferencing” their own products and services, and the Threads requirement to have an Instagram account could run afoul of that rule.