Spain blocks Facebook and Instagram from deploying election features

A data protection agency used emergency powers to block the rollout.


Spain has blocked Meta from rolling out election-focused features on Facebook and Instagram in the country. Data protection agency AEPD used emergency powers stipulated in the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to ban the Election Day Information and Voter Information Unit tools for up to three months as a precautionary measure.

Meta planned to deploy these tools ahead of the European Parliament election. The company said it designed them to “respect users' privacy and comply with the GDPR” and while it disagrees with the AEPD’s stance, Meta told TechCrunch it will comply with the order.

The agency took aim at how Meta planned to process data via the tools. It said there was no justification for the collection of age data (due to an inability to verify the ages users have on their profiles) and it criticized Meta’s intent to retain the data after the June election. It claimed this plan "reveals an additional purpose for the processing operation.”

Other data that Meta planned to process via the election tools included user interactions with those features as well as gender information. “The agency considers that the collection and conservation of data planned by the company would seriously put at risk the rights and freedoms of Instagram and Facebook users, who would see an increase in the volume of information that it collects about them, allowing the creation of more complex, detailed and exhaustive profiles, generating more intrusive treatments,” the AEPD said in a statement translated from Spanish. It also cited concerns about such data being made available to third parties for “non-explicit purposes.”

The AEPD asserts that Meta plans to use the tools to remind eligible Facebook and Instagram users in the EU to vote. The watchdog claims that Meta will identify users as eligible voters based on IP addresses and profile data about where they live. However, to vote in the election, the only requirement is to be an adult national of any EU member state.

According to the AEPD, Meta’s approach targets non-EU citizens who live in member countries while leaving out EU citizens who don’t reside in the bloc. It called the company’s treatment of user data "unnecessary, disproportionate and excessive,” according to Reuters.

The European Commission has raised concerns about Meta’s approach to elections as well. In April, the bloc opened an investigation into the company over its election policies.