Spanish newspaper association files multimillion-euro suit against Meta over advertising practices

MADRID — A Spanish association representing more than 80 newspapers has filed a lawsuit against Facebook parent Meta accusing it of unfair competition in online advertising by allegedly ignoring European Union rules on data protection.

In a statement, the Information Media Association said it is demanding 550 million euros ($600 million) from the social media giant. The association represents dozens of newspapers including Spain’s principal dailies El País, El Mundo, ABC and La Vanguardia.

The association accuses Meta of “systematic and massive non-compliance” with EU data protection regulations between May 2018, when they took force, and July 2023.

It said Meta has repeatedly ignored the requirement that citizens give their consent to the use of their data for advertising profiling.

The company declined to comment, saying it hadn’t seen the legal papers.

Meta’s Facebook and Instagram platforms have long used behavioral advertising to make money. The practice involves tracking individual online behavior such as web browsing habits, mouse clicks and app usage, then using that data to build profiles for targeting ads to users.

But court rulings have eroded Meta’s ability to justify its methods under the EU’s data privacy regulations. In July, the EU’s top court ruled the company can’t force users in the 27-nation bloc to agree to personalized ads, saying users need to freely give their consent. Meta responded by offering ad-free versions of Facebook and Instagram for European users for a monthly fee.

The Spanish association said the use of personal data of users of Meta platforms, tracked without their consent, allowed the U.S. company to offer advertising space based on an “illegitimately obtained competitive advantage,” indirectly threatening the livelihood of Spanish media.

It called on advertisers in the public and private sectors “to entrust their advertising campaigns to safe, reliable and responsible media, respectful of the rights of citizens and committed to promoting democratic quality in Spain.”

“The time has come to put an end to the behavior of technology companies that can afford to pay million-dollar penalties to continue failing to comply with regulations, destroying the market in which we operate and making the illegitimately obtained income their own,” said Irene Lanzaco, director general of the association.

The case was filed at Madrid’s mercantile courts.