Agius Saliba decries Facebook and Insta withdrawal threats over EU rules

Labour MEP says Meta threat to withdraw Facebook and Instagram over EU privacy rules is hollow threat

Alex Agius Saliba
Alex Agius Saliba

Labour MEP Alex Agius Saliba has called the social media giant Meta’s bluff over “threats” to withdraw Facebook and Instagram services from Europe.

Agius Saliba was commenting on Mark Zuckerberg’s warning in Meta’s annual report, that Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp would withdraw their services from the EU over new regulations on personal data, digital markets and digital services.

Meta, whose data infrastructure operates by sending user data outside the EU in order to provide its services, said it was considering pulling out of the entire European single market because of new EU privacy rules.

“The European Union is not some Wild West where companies can do as they please,” Agius Saliba, who is the EP’s rapporteur on the Digital Services Act, a package of laws that safeguards social media users.

“If these companies want to do business here they are going to follow our rules instead of making threats and demands,” Agius Saliba said.

Agius Saliba described Meta’s statement as a threat motivated by a wish to change the EU’s rules so that “among other things, they can bombard us with ads and profit off our data and sell it”.

He highlighted various scandals with Facebook at its heart, such as the use of personal data by Cambridge Analytica to influence the outcome of the American elections.

“This isn’t the first time we’ve been threatened,” Agius Saliba said, referring to similar events in Australia with Meta and Google over government legislation they claim was not favourable to them.

But Agius Saliba downplayed the gravity of the threat. “At the end of the day, Facebook and Google backed down because their enormous profits depend on how much we post information, pictures, like, share and use their platforms.”

The MEP also pointed out Meta’s quarterly losses stemming from a massive reduction in user volumes. “How can these companies risk massive losses because they don’t want to comply with new laws?” Agius Saliba asked, adding it was unlikely that Meta would make good on its “threats”.

Agius Saliba said he was still unsure of what would come of all this but stressed the importance of the European Parliament's work. “My position has always been clear that we cannot afford to allow these giant companies, that in a vacuum of legislation, make up their own rules.”

Agius Saliba did stress the importance for these services to be maintained, because of the positives they bring to the economy and society. But he said he would stand firm against what he described as “threats and brinkmanship from massive corporations threatening to withdraw their services unless we placate them.”

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