The Spanish Media Association (AMI) has filed a lawsuit against Meta (parent company of Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp) for unfair competition in the advertising market, marking the first joint legal action by the Spanish press against a technology platform. The plaintiffs, which include more than 80 media outlets including EL PAÍS, accuse the company led by Mark Zuckerberg of violating European regulations that prohibit misuse of social media user data. This violation has allegedly enabled the technology giant to dominate the advertising market. Media outlets are seeking €550 million in compensation from Meta for lost revenues between 2018 and last July.

Growing Influence of Digital Aggregators and Challenges Faced by Quality Journalism

An increasing number of citizens are obtaining their news through digital aggregators driven by algorithms solely aimed at capturing and retaining their attention, without discerning between quality information and misinformation, verified facts and rumors, truth and hoaxes. Alongside these aggregators, coexist and compete media organizations that invest in journalist teams, prioritize truthful reporting, and adhere to professional standards, which may not necessarily prioritize sensationalism for audience engagement or exclusively aim to capture readers’ attention.

Dominance of Platforms in the Spanish Advertising Market and Unfair Competitive Practices

The market share of platforms in the Spanish advertising market has steadily grown over the last decade, reaching 44% in 2022. Media outlets face unequal access to this market as their competitors utilize illegitimate privileged access to user data — such as names, addresses, contacts, or browsing history — to deliver personalized advertisements without explicit consent. European data protection legislation stipulates that citizens must explicitly consent to the use of their personal information to receive targeted advertising, which forms the basis of these companies’ business models and extraordinary growth. Since media outlets comply with the law requiring explicit user consent to protect privacy, their capacity for personalization is limited, leading advertisers to predominantly invest in technological platforms.

Global Efforts to Regulate Platform Abuses and Protect Media Outlets

Numerous countries are attempting to curb platform abuses. In January, Ireland fined Meta €400 million for regulatory breaches. In July, the European Court of Justice ruled in a German competition case that Zuckerberg’s company cannot justify illegitimate data processing based on its business model. The company’s response has been to offer a subscription service to those who do not wish to receive ads, implying that by not subscribing, users accept its policies. Outside the EU, various countries — from Australia to Canada, Brazil to the United States — are pressuring platforms to reach agreements with media outlets to compensate for declining advertising revenues.

UNESCO’s Concerns about Platform Policies and the Threat to Media Survival

For years, UNESCO has warned that platform policies pose a threat to the survival of media outlets and, consequently, to citizens’ right to information, crucial in any democracy. In addition to ensuring fair competition in the free market, this is the higher good that the Spanish media demand against Meta seeks to protect in the long term.

Conclusion: Upholding Media Integrity in the Face of Technological Dominance

The lawsuit filed by the Spanish Media Association against Meta underscores the urgent need to address the unfair competitive practices of technology platforms that threaten the sustainability of quality journalism. As digital aggregators continue to rise in influence, it is imperative to safeguard the integrity of media outlets and uphold citizens’ right to accurate and unbiased information. Through regulatory measures and legal actions, it is possible to mitigate the dominance of platforms in the advertising market and promote a level playing field that prioritizes journalistic standards and protects user privacy. Ultimately, the preservation of media diversity and the democratic right to information are at stake, making it essential to hold technology giants accountable for their actions.

By Danny