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Meta is fined a record $1.3 billion over alleged EU law violations

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

European regulators are taking a big swing at Facebook's owner, Meta. Today officials in Europe fined Meta a record $1.3 billion over the company's data privacy practices. NPR tech reporter Bobby Allyn is here to discuss what this means for all of us who use Facebook and Instagram. Hey, Bobby.

BOBBY ALLYN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: One point three billion is a big number. What's the story behind it?

ALLYN: It sure is a big number. It's a lot of money, even to super-rich Meta. But the bigger-picture story here is this is really a window into tension between Washington and Brussels over how and where data collected by popular apps like WhatsApp, Instagram and Facebook - where all that data should be stored, right? European regulators say Meta is violating EU laws by transferring the personal data of Europeans to the U.S., where the EU worries that the data could be accessed by U.S. national intelligence services. But if you ask Meta, they say there is just no way not to send data to the U.S.

SHAPIRO: Are we just talking about different standards of privacy here?

ALLYN: Yeah, that is a big part of it. In Europe there are, of course, very stringent data privacy laws, and the U.S. does not have a national data privacy law. I talked to one former Facebook executive who used to lead the company's security team, and he told me that this is really about more than just Meta, right? The fine and order really came about because Europeans fear, like I mentioned, that intelligence agencies like the NSA might harvest the data of Europeans, but almost every multinational company, Ari, has some data that goes to the U.S. There's no way around that. So if this does hold up in courts, it could really affect many companies. Anupam Chander is at Georgetown Law, and he told me that the fine and order really does show that European regulators just do not trust the American government. Meta might be the target today, but eventually this could potentially impact a lot of companies.

ANUPAM CHANDER: Meta is just caught in the crossfire. It could be any company, a European company or an American company, because European companies also transfer data to the United States because everyone relies upon American internet and digital services.

SHAPIRO: How has Meta responded to this?

ALLYN: Well, Meta right now is focused on trying to appeal this order and fine. Meta said if it's upheld, they might have to completely pull their services out of the EU. That's obviously quite dramatic. Chander at Georgetown Law said stopping data transfers to the U.S. would be an incredible undertaking.

CHANDER: I do think that it's going to be very hard for Facebook to actually achieve this. It's taken years for TikTok to localize data within the United States behind these firewalls. This is going to be a tremendous effort.

SHAPIRO: And what does it mean for people in the U.S. and Europe who use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and other Meta platforms?

ALLYN: Right now, you know, as this plays out in the courts in Europe, there shouldn't be any service disruptions for Europeans or, really, anyone. But if this does survive Meta's challenge, things can get really messy. I mean, if Meta pulls all of its services - Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook, others - out of Europe, you can imagine how this would impact how we all share content, how we communicate and how we interact with each other and especially friends and family in Europe. That could get really complicated pretty fast, Ari.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Bobby Allyn on that record fine for Meta today. Thanks, Bobby.

ALLYN: Thanks, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bobby Allyn is a business reporter at NPR based in San Francisco. He covers technology and how Silicon Valley's largest companies are transforming how we live and reshaping society.