Facebook and Instagram may be shut down across Europe, parent company Meta has said.
The issue comes down to European data regulations that prevent Meta, the company formerly known as Facebook, from transferring, storing and processing Europeans’ data on US-based servers.
European leaders, however, have embraced Meta's warning.
“After I was hacked I have lived without Facebook and Twitter for four years and life has been fantastic," Germany’s new economy minister Robert Habeck told reporters during a meeting in Paris on Monday.
Speaking alongside his German colleague, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire added: “I can confirm that life would be very good without Facebook and that we would live very well without Facebook”.
What has Meta said?
In its annual report to the US Securities and Exchange Commission, the country’s financial authority, Meta warned last Thursday that if no new framework is adopted and the company could no longer use the current model of agreements it would probably have to walk away from the continent.
Meta stated that processing user data between countries is crucial for business and advert targeting.
"If we are unable to transfer data between and among countries and regions in which we operate, or if we are restricted from sharing data among our products and services, it could affect our ability to provide our services, the manner in which we provide our services or our ability to target ads," the statement read.
Meta clarified that it thinks it will be able to reach a new agreement this year but if it does not, it stated: "We will likely be unable to offer a number of our most significant products and services, including Facebook and Instagram, in Europe".
However, Meta said on Monday it had no plans to pull Facebook and Instagram from Europe.
"We have absolutely no desire and no plans to withdraw from Europe, but the simple reality is that Meta, and many other businesses, organisations and services, rely on data transfers between the EU and the US in order to operate global services," a Meta spokesperson told Euronews Next in a statement.
Like other companies, Meta said it had followed European rules and relied on Standard Contractual Clauses, and appropriate data safeguards to operate a global service.
"Fundamentally, businesses need clear, global rules to protect transatlantic data flows over the long term, and like more than 70 other companies across a wide range of industries, we are closely monitoring the potential impact on our European operations as these developments progress,” the spokesperson added.
What is the data dispute about?
Meta could previously use a data transfer framework called Privacy Shield as the legal basis to carry out transatlantic data transfers.
But In July 2020, the European Court of Justice annulled the treaty due to violations of data protection. The bloc's highest legal authority argued the standard does not adequately protect European citizens’ privacy.
As a result, US companies were restricted in sending European user data to the US and have had to rely on SCCs (standard contractual clauses).
The EU and US have said they are working on a new or updated version of the treaty.
How has the European Commission reacted?
"Securing a new arrangement for safe transatlantic data flows is a priority for us and our US partners," a European Commission spokesperson told Euronews Next via email.
The negotiations have intensified in the past months, with discussions at a technical and political level. This includes regular contacts between Commissioner Reynders and his counterpart, US Secretary for Commerce, Gina Raimondo, they added.
"Only an arrangement that is fully compliant with the requirements set by the EU court can deliver the stability and legal certainty stakeholders expect on both sides of the Atlantic.
"These negotiations take some time, given also the complexity of the issues discussed and the need to strike a balance between privacy and national security".
Meanwhile, Meta on Monday said the billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel will step down from the board. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times reported that he would focus on aiding Republican candidates backing ex-president Donald Trump's agenda in the midterm elections.
Last week, Meta’s financial report saw its stock plummet by 25 per cent after the social media giant lost daily active users for the first time in its history.
On Tuesday 8 February, Meta closed with a market cap below $600 billion (€525 billion) for the first time since May 2020.