When it comes to the fines European regulators are imposing on big tech companies, it’s easy to lose track. Take today’s decision by the Irish Data Protection Commission, imposing fines totaling more than $400 million against Meta Platforms for breaching European rules with targeted advertising. This is on top of several other cases against Meta at the Irish regulator, which is taking the lead in handling European complaints against the company. The other cases involve children’s access to Instagram, a data breach from a couple of years ago and another ad-targeting complaint against WhatsApp. You can forgive investors if they tune out the frequent reports about new developments in these cases, despite the mounting cost of fines.
Whether or not the companies are at fault, the regulators could speed things up by streamlining their own processes. After all, today’s decision relates to complaints made nearly five years ago. Ireland’s regulator originally ruled on at least part of this case in 2021, imposing a fine of less than one-tenth today’s penalty, after dismissing a key part of the complaint. After some back and forth with regulators in Europe, the region’s big boss, the European Data Protection Board, overruled the Irish authority with a tougher decision—hence the new fine. That bureaucratic infighting is no small problem. Today’s decision also revealed that the Irish had told its European bosses to take a hike on a directive to “conduct a fresh investigation that would span all of Facebook and Instagram’s data processing operations.”