Meta will not tremble at the magnitude of the fine he has just been handed by Turkey’s competition authority, which today announced a 346.72 million lira penalty.
The roughly $18.6 million fine pales in comparison to a series of recent stabs they have received from European regulators. Like the $267 million fine for WhatsApp in the European Union just over a year ago – for transparency violations of the block’s privacy framework; or the UK competition authority’s $70 million caning a year ago after it said Meta failed to comply with requests for information during the review of its purchase of Giphy. Subsequently, the British CMA ordered that this takeover be reversed as well, so the whole sad saga is likely to cost them significantly more.
Plenty of other privacy complaints also hang over its head, such as the one targeting its EU-US data streams, which could be ordered in the coming months to suspend those transfers — and essentially halt its service in Europe — unless , a looming replacement as the defunct Privacy Shield framework can be rolled out quickly first.
Still, it’s the crux of Turkey’s fine – that Meta has a dominant position on social media and has attempted to handicap competitors by combining data between separate services it operates – that likely snags the social networking giant will send shivers down your spine because his business continues to be people profiling. And that depends on its ability to get people’s data and create detailed ad profiles. Therefore, any regulatory obstacles that limit its ability to conduct its unrestricted surveillance of Internet users pose an existential threat to its core microtargeting advertising model.
The Turkish approach is also remarkable because the German competition authority has had similar concerns for years.
His appeal was sent to the block’s top court in March 2021, and his verdict is pending (likely next year). But an opinion from an influential adviser to the ECJ last month advocated allowing antitrust authorities to consider privacy compliance as part of their assessment of competition rules – which, if the court follows the AG’s view, is bad news for Meta in the across the EU, as it would open the door for more competition watchdogs to have a non-isolated, “big picture” and high-level view of their activities when assessing antitrust concerns.
There is therefore a growing sense that international regulators are – gradually and inexorably – closing in on Meta’s legacy of moving fast and breaking things (or, it seems, a better description of it modus operandisucking up all the data and consolidating it into a vast data lake far beyond the reach of any user control, per leaked internal documents).
“By combining the data collected from [Meta] of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp services… it causes worsening competition by creating difficulties for competitors with personal social networking services operating in online display advertising markets and creating barriers to entry,” Turkey’s Competition Authority wrote in a published article decision today – following the completion of an investigation – and explains his decision to impose an administrative penalty [the decision text is in Turkish; we’ve translated it here using machine translation].
The agency’s investigation began last year after a controversial change to WhatsApp’s terms of service sparked major privacy backlash across the world. And consumer protection authorities in Europe remain concerned that T&Cs are confusing consumers. So there could be more assertiveness on that front as well. (On top of the massive GDPR “transparency” penalty mentioned above – and potentially more GDPR enforcements due to a backlog of complaints still being handled by the tech giant’s top data protection authority in the EU.)
The Turkish Competition Authority unanimously found that Meta occupies a dominant position in the social media market and unanimously concluded that its behavior violated local competition law.
As well as being fined, the tech giant was ordered to stop the breach – and create “effective competition in the market” – with a month’s notice in which to inform the regulator of the steps it is taking must do this; and a maximum of six months (from today’s decision) for the implementation of the measures once approved.
Meta was also ordered to report to the regulator on the actions it took over a five-year period.
The tech giant has been contacted to comment on the Turkish authority’s sanction. A meta-speaker emailed this short line — but didn’t confirm whether or not he’ll appeal:
We do not agree with the findings of the Turkish Competition Authority. We protect the privacy of our users and offer people transparency and control over their data. We will review all of our options.
One thing is clear: Meta’s business faces costly regulatory interventions on multiple fronts — threatening its ability to capture the world’s attention by ignoring privacy laws; threats to its ability to do so by acquiring/assimilating other companies to collect data in this way (as well as threats to its ability to combine data across separate services it already owns); and the threat to its ability to attempt to circumvent this outdated regulatory reckoning by sliding its business where it thinks the puck is going (aka “the metaverse”) – by blocking its ability to leverage its market power to buy out VR startups, which some are seeing burgeoning success (which can certainly be overhyped vaporware).
In addition, the rise of more connected regulatory thinking will only deepen these interventions.
Throw in Apple’s recent flex against the scourge of smartphone apps being quietly and without consent repurposed as tentacles for surveillance advertising (aka app-tracking transparency); and a raft of new laws (like the EU’s Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act) that will further limit what the advertising giants can do — and it sure looks like Meta’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, has more reason than that most people to wear VR goggles and float away in search of digital escapism for years to come…