Meta won't train AI on Euro posts after all, as watchdogs put their paws down

Facebook parent calls step forward for privacy a 'step backwards'

Meta has caved to European regulators, and agreed to pause its plans to train AI models on EU users' Facebook and Instagram users' posts — a move that the social media giant said will delay its plans to launch Meta AI in the economic zone.

For everyone else outside the EU, Meta will be going full steam ahead using your public social media posts to train its neural networks.

The decision to halt AI training using EU content follows complaints to data protection agencies in 11 European countries – and those agencies, led by Ireland, telling the Facebook giant to scrap the slurp.

And while this climb down has been cheered by privacy advocates, Meta called it "a step backwards for European innovation" that will cause "further delays bringing the benefits of AI to people in Europe."

"We're disappointed by the request from the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC), our lead regulator, on behalf of the European DPAs, to delay training our large language models (LLMs) using public content shared by adults on Facebook and Instagram  — particularly since we incorporated regulatory feedback and the European DPAs have been informed since March," the social network said in a statement on Friday.

The DPC said it "welcomes" Meta's decision, and noted it followed "intensive engagement" between the regulatory body and the social media firm. "The DPC, in cooperation with its fellow EU data protection authorities, will continue to engage with Meta on this issue," it added.

Meta on Monday said it hoped to use Europeans' data to train its models. It promised to only use public posts and comments — not private chats and DMs — and to not use any content from anyone under the age of 18. Crucially, the biz said it would give Euro folks a chance to opt out; a safeguard not extended to the rest of the world.

Without a steady diet of EU information, Meta's AI systems won't be able to "accurately understand important regional languages, cultures or trending topics on social media," the American goliath said at the time. 

Absent this training data, that technology would "only be able to offer people a second-rate experience," the biz said on Friday. "This means we aren't able to launch Meta AI in Europe at the moment." Yes, for the moment.

Meta also pledged to continue working with the DPC, and address specific concerns from the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO).

"We are pleased that Meta has reflected on the concerns we shared from users of their service in the UK, and responded to our request to pause and review plans to use Facebook and Instagram user data to train generative AI," Stephen Almond, ICO executive director for regulatory risk, told The Register.

"In order to get the most out of generative AI and the opportunities it brings, it is crucial that the public can trust that their privacy rights will be respected from the outset," Almond continued.

"We will continue to monitor major developers of generative AI, including Meta, to review the safeguards they have put in place and ensure the information rights of UK users are protected."  

Privacy group noyb had filed complaints with various European DPAs about Meta's LLM training plans, and its chair Max Schrems on Friday said while the organization welcomed the news, it "will monitor this closely."

"So far there is no official change of the Meta privacy policy, which would make this commitment legally binding," Schrems noted in a statement. "The cases we filed are ongoing and will need a determination." ®

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