Meta and Amazon under legal spotlight in UK over surveillance

Meta and Amazon are being challenged in two separate cases over data collection for competitive advantage and surveillance-based advertising.

A lawsuit has been filed against Facebook parent firm Meta at London’s High Court, demanding that Facebook stop the practice of collecting the personal data of its users for the sake of advertising and marketing.

Tanya O’Carroll, a technology and human rights activist, filed the complaint, alleging that Facebook’s processing and profiling of her personal data—which is subsequently used to create targeted ads—violates UK’s data protection rules.

O’Carroll’s legal team accuses Meta of repeatedly disregarding her right to object to being surveilled and profiled when she attempted to opt out of having her personal information processed by Meta for marketing reasons.

O’Carroll claims that the purpose of the litigation is to use a claim over her individual rights to set a precedent and uphold the rights of millions of Meta users by restricting Facebook’s capacity to profile those who object to its surveillance.

Law firm AWO is representing O’Carroll in this case. AWO says the legal action is about the right to object, and that the claimant is not seeking damages or money.

The claim document: [pdf] includes lists of “ad interests” that were allocated to O’Carroll by Meta between the 16th of June 2021 and the 14th of October 2022. Among these “ad interests” are a number of topics that involve sensitive information.

Meta said a year ago that it would delete as targeting options topics that people may consider to be sensitive.

According to the claimant, Meta stated that these changes were completed by March 2022; however, as of October 14, 2022, O’Carroll discovered that a variety of “sensitive ad interests” had still been assigned to her. They included topics related to family matters and relationships, psychological matters, ancestry and identity, and politics and philosophical viewpoints.

O’Carroll has objected to “being surveilled and profiled,” AWO said.

“A win could set a precedent for millions of users of search engines or social media in the UK and EU who have been forced to accept invasive surveillance and profiling to use digital platforms,” ​​it added.

O’Carroll said that people should not have to sacrifice every detail of their personal life in order to connect with their friends and family on social media.

“The law gives us the right to take back control over our personal data and stop Facebook surveilling and tracking us,” she said.

Investigation demanded into Amazon’s iRobot acquisition

The lawsuit comes at a time when London-based nonprofit Foxglove is demanding a UK antitrust inquiry into Amazon’s iRobot acquisition.

On Tuesday, Foxglove said that it was requesting the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to open an investigation and block the $1.7 billion acquisition of the business best known for producing the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner.

Foxglove alleges that Amazon unfairly eliminates rivals in the market for household consumer products by abusing its dominant position.

“Amazon aren’t just buying a fun little automated hoover. Their aim is to leapfrog into pole position in home robotics, and to shore up their bid to dominate the smart home,” Foxglove said.

“Roombas generate huge data on the layouts of people’s houses; later models come with a camera. Add that to the possibility of (temporary) cut-throat Roomba pricing on Amazon Prime, and the buyout gives Amazon a potentially unprecedented new suite of monopoly advantages .”

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is also investigating Amazon’s iRobot acquisition to determine if the deal violates antitrust laws.

The FTC investigation, which launched in September, is looking at head-to-head competition as well as whether the transaction will unreasonably boost Amazon’s market dominance in the connected device and general retail markets.