The European Union’s stance on digital privacy is being put to the test as noyb, a privacy rights organization based in Austria, has filed a complaint against Elon Musk’s social platform. The allegation centers around the platform’s promotion of a post from the EU Home Affairs directorate, which paid to highlight the importance of “chat control” legislation in the Netherlands. This legislation would allow for the scanning of devices and messages for child abuse material, even if encrypted. Noyb’s major concern is that the platform targeted users for this ad based on sensitive criteria such as political views and religious beliefs, a practice that could contravene both the platform’s internal policies and the EU’s strict privacy laws.
Noyb’s complaint, lodged with the Dutch data protection authority, builds on previous concerns raised in September. Following the earlier complaint, the European Commission took a decisive step by ceasing all advertising on the platform, citing potential breaches of the Digital Services Act (DSA) and the spread of disinformation. This move underscores the increasing scrutiny on how platforms manage user data and the potential repercussions of missteps.
The complaint asserts that the advertisement was selectively shown to users who did not express interest in politically and religiously sensitive topics, such as Brexit or right-wing parties. This is problematic because the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) explicitly prohibits the processing of personal data that reveals political opinions or religious beliefs. The EU Data Protection Board has also indicated that social media companies categorizing users based on such data are indeed processing sensitive personal information, which is not allowed without explicit consent.
The consequences for the platform could be severe if the allegations are proven true. Noyb is pushing for a thorough investigation and is calling for a ban on the platform’s ability to process special categories of data for advertising. They are also seeking a substantial fine, which could be as high as €20 million or 4% of the platform’s annual turnover, depending on which is greater. Given the financial implications, the outcome of this complaint could have a significant impact on the platform’s operations within the EU.