Europe staves off Facebook blackout — for now

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Europeans have been saved from a summer shutdown of social media sites Facebook and Instagram by … European Union bureaucracy.

An Irish draft decision to block the social media sites’ parent company Meta’s data transfers from Europe to the U.S. is stuck in the process, as regulators from across the EU butt heads over the details.

In July, POLITICO reported that Ireland’s privacy regulator had decided to block Facebook’s owner Meta from using a last legal mechanism called standard contractual clauses (SCCs) to transfer large chunks of data like family pictures and direct messages across the Atlantic. The Irish decision followed a 2020 European Court of Justice ruling that deemed major flows of data between Europe and the U.S. illegal because they expose Europeans to U.S. government surveillance risks.

Meta has repeatedly said that a decision blocking its transfers would force it to shutter its Facebook and Instagram offerings in Europe.

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But the Irish decision is still pending review by other authorities in Europe. A spokesperson for the Irish regulator said Wednesday that it had received objections from several other EU regulators to its draft order, which effectively delays a final decision to shut down the data flows and buys Facebook time.

The Irish regulator is now expected to take months to attempt to resolve the objections. It previously has taken the regulator up to four months to attempt to tweak decisions upon request of European peers.

If the Irish regulator fails to resolve the dissenting opinions, as it has done in the majority of its decisions against Big Tech, it would have to trigger an official dispute resolution mechanism. This would bring in the European Data Protection Board, delaying the process by at least another month.

All these delays would put Meta within touching distance of being able to keep its data flows to the U.S. alive through a new transatlantic data pact, which negotiators plan to complete within the first quarter of 2023. With the new EU-U.S. data deal in place, Meta and thousands of other companies would be able to use that agreement — not SCCs — to move people’s information across the Atlantic.

The U.S. social media company could also still appeal the finalized Irish decision.

Meta did not respond to a request for comment but previously emphasized that the July draft decision wasn’t final.