Facebook owner Meta faces $600 million lawsuit from Spanish media

By Inti Landauro

MADRID (Reuters) -A group representing 83 Spanish media outlets has filed a 550 million euro ($600 million) lawsuit against Facebook owner Meta Platforms, citing unfair competition in the advertising market in a case that could be replicated across the European Union.

The AMI media association said in a statement on Monday the lawsuit was filed collectively by the newspapers with a commercial court on Friday, and allege Meta violated EU data protection rules between 2018 and 2023.

The newspapers argue that Meta’s “massive” and “systematic” use of personal data of its Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp platform users gives it an unfair advantage of designing and offering personalised ads, which they say constitutes unfair competition.

Meta’s press office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A Meta source familiar with the matter said the company was yet to receive the legal documents.

The complainants, including Prisa – which publishes Spain’s main newspaper El Pais – and Vocento, the owner of ABC, allege most of the ads placed by Meta use personal data obtained without express consent from clients.

This, they claim, violates the EU General Data Protection Regulation in force since May 2018 which demands that any website requests authorisation to keep and use personal data.

“Of course, in any other EU country, the same legal proceeding could be initiated” as it concerns an alleged violation of European regulations, Nicolas Gonzalez Cuellar, a lawyer representing the newspapers, told Reuters.

The lawsuit is the latest attempt by legacy media to fight tech giants in tribunals to protect their turf.

All over the world, media organisations have struggled in courts and parliaments to make tech giants pay fair fees for using and sharing their content.

Spanish media have scored a victory against Alphabet’s Google News service, which the government shut down in 2014 before its reopening in 2022 under new legislation allowing media outlets to negotiate fees directly with the tech giant.

Following the Spanish case, several countries, such as Canada earlier this year, have imposed regulations designed to make internet giants pay for news.

($1 = 0.9203 euros)

(Reporting by Inti Landauro, Jakub Olesiuk and Supantha Mukherjee;Editing by David Goodman and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)