Meta and Apple Hold Back New AI Features For European Users Over Regulatory Concerns

This article was written by James Morales for CCN.

Artificial Intelligence has emerged as the latest battle line between American Big Tech firms and European regulators, which are closely monitoring the emerging landscape of AI services for potential privacy, antitrust and consumer protection violations.

In a bid to avoid penalties, Apple and Meta have withheld new AI features from the European market in recent weeks. But given the sheer size of the market, they might have no option but to appease regulators’ concerns.

Apple Intelligence Withheld in EU Over DMA Compliance Fears

Unveiled to much fanfare earlier this month, Apple Intelligence brings a variety of new AI features to the company’s software offerings, for example, by integrating ChatGPT into iOS.

But following concerns that Apple’s deal with OpenAI could be in violation of the EU’s Digital Markets Act (DMA), the iPhone maker has postponed the rollout of new features for EU users.

“We are concerned that the interoperability requirements of the DMA could force us to compromise the integrity of our products in ways that risk user privacy and data security,” the company said in a statement.

While customers in the US are expected to gain access to the new AI features later this year, EU iPhone users must wait until Apple can deliver the software upgrade in a fully DMA-compliant manner.

Balancing Regulatory Compliance 

The situation with Apple Intelligence places the Silicon Valley firm in a difficult position. On the one hand, non-compliance with DMA regulations could result in fines of up to 10% of its global turnover. On the other, it risks creating an AI gap that could hurt its business in the EU if users there don’t get access to the same features and services as the rest of the world. 

What’s more, Apple isn’t the only company that must strike a balance between its business needs and European compliance. But in Meta’s case, the latest clash relates to privacy law rather than antitrust regulation.

Meta AI Data Gathering Sparks GDPR Complaints

At the beginning of June, Meta informed millions of Europeans of impending changes to its privacy policy that would grant the company permission to use their personal data to train its AI models.

The move attracted the attention of Meta’s longtime nemesis in the field of European privacy law – Max Schrems – who has sued the company for violations of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on 2 previous occasions.

“Meta is basically saying that it can use ‘any data from any source for any purpose and make it available to anyone in the world’, as long as it’s done via ‘AI technology’. This is clearly the opposite of GDPR compliance,” Schrems said  of the policy change.

Through his campaign group noyb, Schrems filed complaints with 11 EU privacy watchdogs, including the Data Protection Commission (DPC) in Ireland where the company has its European headquarters.

Meta AI Launch Postponed in Europe

Following Schrems’ actions, Meta suspended plans to train its AI systems using data from citizens of the EU and UK (which retained GDPR in domestic law after Brexit) and said it won’t launch Meta AI in the region. 

Built on Llama 3, Meta AI is the company’s answer to ChatGPT, which it has started integrating into Facebook Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Commenting on the matter, Meta Global Engagement Director Stefano Fratta claimed the company is only following a path already laid out by other AI developers. 

“We are following the example set by others, including Google and OpenAI, both of which have already used data from Europeans to train AI,” he said . “Our approach is more transparent and offers easier controls than many of our industry counterparts already training their models on similar publicly available information.”

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