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EU rules against Meta in data privacy row

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) says consumer groups can take legal action over data privacy breaches

A smartphone lying on a laptop displaying the Meta company logo

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) has ruled that Germany’s consumer protection association can bring a legal challenge against Meta over data privacy breaches. 

The Federal Court of Justice in Germany (Bundesgerichtshof), asked the EU’s highest court whether consumer groups could take legal action over data privacy infringements, or whether these issues were to be tackled by national supervisory authorities.

In response, the CJEU ruled in favour of the possibility, explaining that “it pursues a public interest objective consisting in safeguarding the rights and freedoms of data subjects in their capacity as consumers” according to Court House News.

The ruling means the Federation of German Consumer Organisations and Associations (VZBV) can apply for an injunction against Meta Platforms Ireland in a German court. 

The development follows the German consumer group’s allegation that Meta infringed rules on data privacy and unfair competition regulations enabling free third-party games to collect personal data from users. 

Ultimately, users clicking “play now” on games such as Scrabble on Facebook were inadvertently consenting to their data being collected by the game creators.

The German court asked the CJEU whether the EU’s data protection laws of 2018 would allow a consumer body to take legal action over such infringements, or whether national supervisory authorities were to handle the matter. 

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The German court found the consumer protection association’s complaint credible but did question its admissibility. The EU court ruled that under GDPR, the complaint is valid, adding that consumer associations qualify as bodies able to bring GDPR proceedings as they would be acting in the public’s interest. 

In a statement, Ursula Pachl, deputy director-general of the European Consumer Organisation, which includes VZBV, praised the ruling.

“The GDPR is a crucial law that protects people’s personal data in the EU,” she said. “It is essential that it is better enforced, and rulings like today’s will help.”

A spokesperson for Meta said the company would review the decision. “The underlying legal proceedings showed that there were some open questions, which the CJEU has now addressed," they said. "We will review the decision and assess its implications."

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