Facebook Claims Users Sign Up Because They Want To See Personalized Ads, Max Schrems Disagrees — And Usually Wins These GDPR Arguments

November 20 11:58 2019 Print This Article

The privacy activist Max Schrems has been conducting a battle on multiple fronts against Facebook’s use of personal data. Last year, Techdirt wrote about one of the skirmishes, which saw the EU’s highest court, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), ruling that Schrems could use the GDPR to litigate in Austria, where he is based, rather than in Ireland, where Facebook has its international headquarters. The latter option would have been prohibitively expensive for Schrems, and would probably have meant he dropped the case.

Schems has now begun his legal action in Austria, before the Vienna Regional Court. According to Schrems, Facebook admitted that it has been collecting and processing data without users’ consent since the introduction of the GDPR last year. However, in an interesting move, Facebook has claimed that it is not breaking EU law for the following reason:

According to the GDPR, in addition to consent, there is also the possibility of processing data for the “performance of a contract” (Article 6(1)(b) GDPR). Facebook now claims to have concluded such an “advertising contract” with users who, according to Facebook, have ordered “personalized advertising” when they signed up to the new terms and conditions on May 25, 2018.

Essentially, Facebook is claiming that people join its service because they are simply dying to see all those personalized ads that Facebook wants to show them. To counter that novel claim, Schrem’s organization NOYB commissioned a study by the Austrian Gallup Institute, which interviewed a representative sample of 1000 Austrians (original in German – pdf). According to Gallup, only 4% of the sample actually loved the ads, with 6% liking them slightly, 21% indifferent and 69% disliking them or really disliking them. That’s only one survey, but it certainly suggests that Facebook is clutching at straws with its new line of arguing. According to NOYB:

Cecilia Álvarez (Privacy Policy Director of Facebook EMEA) was questioned by the Viennese judge yesterday. However, she was unable to answer many of the questions. Facebook’s lawyers argued that she lacked the “technical understanding” to answer questions on Facebook’s handling of personal data.

As Schrems points out, Facebook would have the court believe that users know exactly what they are committing to when they agree to the service’s terms and conditions, and yet: “not even the top Facebook privacy expert can explain exactly what the company does with our data.” The hearing before the Viennese court to decide the issue has been adjourned until February, so nothing more will happen until then. But the stakes are high. Schrems comments: “If we succeed, Facebook will have to change its practices to comply with the GDPR and give users real voting rights. That’s our goal.”

Moreover, a victory by NOYB on this point, if confirmed by the CJEU, would affect every company operating in the EU that gathers private data from its users, and sells advertising based on the personal details. However much Internet services like Facebook and Google might hate that prospect, they know that it is a real possibility, as proved by Schrems’ already impressive track record of winning these kind of GDPR arguments.

The original article was posted here: https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20191114/06540343387/facebook-claims-users-sign-up-because-they-want-to-see-personalized-ads-max-schrems-disagrees-usually-wins-these-gdpr-arguments.shtml

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Glyn Moody
Glyn Moody

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