Facebook and Instagram could leave Europe for good over GDPR rules

The Meta logo on a smartphone in front of the Facebook logo a little bit blurred in the background
(Image credit: Shutterstock / rafapress)

Facebook parent Meta has once again threatened to leave the European market if it cannot secure an ongoing deal to exempt it from some aspects of the EU's GDPR regulations. 

Meta made the claims in its annual letter to the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), outlining the ongoing dispute between the company and various European regulators over the transfer of user data to and from Europe. (Meta is, of course, based in the US.)

"If a new transatlantic data transfer framework is not adopted and we are unable to continue to rely on SCCs or rely upon other alternative means of data transfers from Europe to the United States, we will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe, which would materially and adversely affect our business, financial condition, and results of operations," the company said.

Speaking to City AM, Meta's Nick Clegg confirmed the thinking, arguing that "a lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would damage the economy and hamper the growth of data-driven businesses in the EU, just as we seek a recovery from Covid-19."

We've been here before

This isn't the first time Meta (or Facebook as it was known then) has made this threat. Back in 2020, the company made similar claims when it seems that the Irish data regulator would ban transatlantic data flows. 

"In the event that [Facebook] were subject to a complete suspension of the transfer of users’ data to the US," Facebook lawyer Yvonne Cunnane argued, "it is not clear … how, in those circumstances, it could continue to provide the Facebook and Instagram services in the EU."

Leaving Europe, as Meta says, would do huge damage to its business and would likely be a last resort for the company. Speaking to City AM, Meta said that it has "absolutely no desire and no plans to withdraw from Europe, but the simple reality is that Meta, and many other businesses, organisations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate global services."

As you can imagine, European lawmakers were not impressed, which might be a little harsh given that Meta told the SEC as part of its overall fiduciary duties. 

Max Slater-Robins has been writing about technology for nearly a decade at various outlets, covering the rise of the technology giants, trends in enterprise and SaaS companies, and much more besides. Originally from Suffolk, he currently lives in London and likes a good night out and walks in the countryside.