EU Users to Gain Control over Cross-Site Tracking Under Digital Markets Act Enforcement

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) applies to just six (mostly US) tech giants, including Meta. The incoming choices will also enable regional users of Facebook Messenger to stop Meta combining their data with their use of its social network. This is the only alternative Meta currently offers EU users who don’t want it to process their information to run tracking ads. And it remains to be seen whether EU data protection regulators will accept it. An ex ante reform of digital competition law in Germany already led to Meta making some concessions over cross-site tracking last June.

The European Union has announced new competition rules that aim to address abusive behaviors by Big Tech companies. As it prepares to comply with these regulations, Meta (formerly known as Facebook) has revealed details of its plan to respond to the incoming changes.

The Digital Markets Act (DMA) specifically targets six tech giants, all of whom are based in the United States – one of which is Meta. The EU has designated Meta as a “gatekeeper,” placing six of its products under the DMA’s scope. These “core platform services” include Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger, as well as its ads delivery and virtual marketplace platform.

The DMA imposes limits on how gatekeepers can operate, with a focus on restricting their ability to process user data for advertising purposes. The law also requires gatekeepers to obtain consent before combining user data between different services or with personal information from third parties.

The deadline for compliance with the DMA is March 7, which is why Meta is now working to make adjustments to its services in the EU region. In a recent blog post, the company announced that it will begin sending notifications to users in the region in the coming weeks, offering them more control over how their data is used on Meta’s platforms.

“We are offering these choices to address the requirements of the DMA, which enter into force in March 2024,” Meta wrote in its blog post.

“Our goal is to comply with these regulations and continue to provide our users with a great experience while respecting their privacy,” the company added.

These new choices will be accessible through Meta’s Account Center feature and will allow users to block the company from combining their data on Facebook and Instagram. This feature could potentially reverse one of the key reasons why Facebook acquired Instagram back in 2012 – to boost visibility and enhance targeted advertising by accessing user data from a major competitor.

For users of Facebook Messenger, they will also have the option to stop Meta from combining their data with their use of its social network. However, separating this data may require creating a new, separate Messenger account. This could create some friction for users, possibly discouraging them from taking steps to protect their data.

As for users of Meta’s Marketplace platform, they will have the option to separate their marketplace activity from their Facebook account. However, this will prevent them from using Facebook Messenger for communication with buyers or sellers, as they will only be able to use email.

Meta has also created a potential hurdle for users of Facebook Gaming who wish to prevent their gaming activity from being linked to their wider use of the social network. These users will not have access to social gaming features unless they agree to allow Meta to track and profile their activity.

Meta has also made changes to its tracking-based advertising in the EU region, offering an ad-free subscription option for users who do not want their data processed for targeted ads. However, this could potentially be seen as a “hobson’s choice” for users – either pay for an ad-free experience or agree to tracking and profiling.

Under the DMA, gatekeepers are required to ensure user consent is “as easy to withdraw…as to give.” This means that EU regulators may take action against Meta if they determine that the company’s forced consent choices do not meet this requirement.

The complexity and potential consequences of these decisions have privacy advocates and EU regulators closely watching Meta’s moves. The GDPR, another EU law regulating user consent, will also play a role in assessing these choices. Ultimately, it will be up to regulators to determine whether Meta’s choices for user privacy and data protection meet the required standards.

Despite the potential for hefty fines, it is yet to be seen how far tech giants will push the boundaries and minimize any concessions they make. However, the DMA is expected to play a significant role in reshaping the power of these platform giants in the EU.

“Gatekeepers should not design, organize, or operate their online interfaces in a way that deceives, manipulates, or otherwise impairs the ability of end users to freely give consent,” the DMA states.

This could have significant implications for other choices made by Meta that may manipulate users into agreeing to their data being combined. As the company continues to make changes and announcements leading up to the March 7 deadline, all eyes will be on the EU to see how it enforces the DMA and holds tech giants accountable for their actions.

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Dylan Williams

Dylan Williams is a multimedia storyteller with a background in video production and graphic design. He has a knack for finding and sharing unique and visually striking stories from around the world.

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