In a bit of high-tech saber-rattling, Facebook is threatening to pull the plug on its social media platform in the European Union if a controversial decision by Irish regulators is allowed to stand.
Yvonne Cunnane, Facebook Ireland’s head of data protection and associate general counsel, has informed Ireland’s Data Protection Commission of dire consequences should the regulator uphold a ruling that restricts the transfer of data between Europe and the U.S., according to Metro.
Facebook’s Cunnane laid out the threat in a sworn affidavit to the Irish regulator, hinting that the social media giant might be prepared to shut down its operations in a region where it has more than 400 million users.
“It is not clear to [Facebook] how, in those circumstances, it could continue to provide the Facebook and Instagram services in the EU,” Cunnane wrote, according to Metro.
The Irish regulator earlier this month opened an investigation into Facebook’s data transfers between Europe and the United States, a probe triggered by concerns that the data could be subject to surveillance by the U.S. government.
Facebook has since challenged the regulator’s moves in court, with a judge granting the company a temporary reprieve from the new data-sharing restrictions.
The Irish regulator’s power extends to Facebook’s data practices in Europe, with the ability to levy a massive fine of up to 4 percent of its global revenues, The New York Times reports.
For Facebook, the other, more likely alternative to pulling out of Europe would be to install internal firewalls that would keep European data from flowing into the U.S. That could prove to be “immensely complicated,” the Times reported, and likely highly expensive.
“A lack of safe, secure and legal international data transfers would damage the economy and hamper the growth of data-driven businesses in the EU, just as we seek a recovery from COVID-19,” wrote Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications for Facebook. “The impact would be felt by businesses large and small, across multiple sectors.”