CJEU - C‑446/21 - Maximilian Schrems v Meta Platforms Ireland Limited

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CJEU - C‑446/21 Maximilian Schrems v Meta Platforms Ireland Limited
Court: CJEU
Jurisdiction: European Union
Relevant Law: Article 5(1)(b) GDPR
Article 5(1)(c) GDPR
Article 9(2)(e) GDPR
Decided: 25.04.2024
Parties: Meta Platforms Ireland Limited
Case Number/Name: C‑446/21 Maximilian Schrems v Meta Platforms Ireland Limited
European Case Law Identifier: ECLI:EU:C:2024:366
Reference from:
Language: 24 EU Languages
Original Source: AG Opinion
Initial Contributor: nzm

The Advocate General considered that the data minimisation principle precludes the processing of personal data for the purposes of targeted advertising without restriction as to time or type of data. He also added that making 'sensitive data' manifestly public does not exempt the controller from complying with the rest of the GDPR, including the purpose limitation principle.

English Summary


In 2018, Meta Platforms Ireland (“controller”) presented new Facebook terms of service to its users in the European Union, with a view of obtaining their consent. The data subject, a Facebook user, accepted the new terms of service presented by the controller.

The data subject received advertisement for a female politician on the basis of the analysis that he was similar to other “customers” who “liked” her. He also regularly received advertising aimed at homosexuals and invitations to corresponding events. The data subject had publically referred to his homosexuality, but had never mentioned his sexual orientation on Facebook, nor published any sensitive data. He hadn’t authorised the controller to use the fields in his profile relating to his relationship status, employer, job title or education for the purposes of targeted advertising either.

Those advertisements and invitations were not based directly on his sexual orientation or his “friends” on Facebook, but on an analysis of their particular interests. The data subject claimed that the controller recorded all data relating to him, including those obtained through third parties or plug-ins, and stored them for an indefinite period.

Subsequently, during a panel discussion, the data subject referred to his sexual orientation during a speech aimed at criticizing the allegedly unlawful processing by the controller of data relating to his sexual orientation.

The data subject therefore brought an action before the Landesgericht für Zivilsachen Wien (Regional Court for Civil Matters, Vienna, Austria) seeking enforcement, a declaration and an injunction concerning the allegedly unlawful processing of his personal data. His action was dismissed at first instance on 30 June 2020 and, on appeal, by the Oberlandesgericht Wien (Higher Regional Court, Vienna, Austria) on 7 December 2020. The data subject therefore lodged an appeal with the Oberster Gerichtshof (Supreme Court).

The latter referred a total of four questions to the CJEU. However, two of them were withdrawn following the judgement of 4 July 2023, Meta Platforms and Others. The two remaining questions are:

  1. Does the data minimisation principle (Article 5(1)(c) GDPR) mean that all personal data held by a platform may be aggregated analysed and processed for the purposes of targeted advertising without any restriction?
  2. Does Article 5(1)(b) read in conjunction with Article 9(2)(e) GDPR mean that a statement made by a person about their sexual orientation for the purposes of a panel discussion permits a controller to process other data concerning their sexual orientation to offer them personalised advertising?

Advocate General Rantos published his opinion on the matter on 25 April 2024.

Advocate General Opinion

On the first question:

Firstly, the Advocate General recalled that the CJEU has stated that the principle of data minimisation set out in Article 5(1)(c) GDPR provides that personal data should be adequate, relevant and limited to what is necessary in relation to the purposes for which they are processed. This reflects the principle of proportionality. Therefore, the principle of data minimisation aims to minimise the restrictions on the right to the protection of personal data caused by the processing (§20 of the Opinion).

The Advocate General considered that the absence of any limitation is, by definition, contrary to the principle of data minimisation (§21 of the Opinion).

Regarding the restrictions relating to time, the Advocate General states that in the absence of a specific provision in the GDPR, the EU judicature cannot set a mandatory time limit of the retention of such data. An initially lawful processing may over time, become incompatible in particular with Article 5(1)(c) GDPR if the data is no longer necessary in light of the purposes for which they were collected. Therefore, the referring courts must assess if the period of retention of personal data by the controller is justified having regard to the legitimate aim of processing said data, for the purposes of personalised advertising (§22 of the Opinion).

Regarding the restrictions relating to the type of data, the Advocate General held that it is also for the referring court to determine whether the processing of personal data may be considered lawful in accordance with the principle of proportionality, with regard to the circumstances of the present case (§23 of the Opinion).

Secondly, the Advocate General indicated that Article 5(1)(c) uses very general conditions (“adequacy”, “relevance”, “necessity”) which demonstrates that the EU legislature intended to leave a wide discretion to the competent authorities. Indeed, these conditions can only be interpreted on a case-by-case basis (§25 of the Opinion).

However, the Advocate General considered that certain distinctions may be drawn depending on the impact on data subjects’ rights. On the one hand, a distinction can be made between 'static data' (age or sex for example) and ‘behavioural’ data (monitoring users’ browsing habits for example), as the latter is in general more intrusive as regards to the data subject’s rights. Regarding behavioural data, a distinction can also be drawn between ‘active’ behaviour (clicking on the ‘like’ button for example) and ‘passive’ behaviour (visiting a website for example), as the latter is generally more intrusive for the user. On the other hand, the Advocate General also distinguishes between the processing of personal data collected of the Facebook platform, and outside that platform, the latter being more intrusive for the data subject (§25 of the Opinion).

The Advocate General also held that it is important to take into account the reasonable expectations of data subjects (§26 of the Opinion).

Therefore, the Advocate General found that Article 5(1)(c) GDPR does not allow the processing of personal data for the purposes of targeted advertising without restriction as to time or type of data. The referred court must assess, in light of the circumstances and by applying the principle of proportionality, the extent to which the data retention period and the amount of data processed are justified with regard to the purpose (§28 of the Opinion).

On the second question:

Article 5(1)(b) GDPR establishes that personal data must be collected for specified, explicit and legitimate purposes. Article 9(1) GDPR indicates that processing of data concerning, inter alia, a natural person’s sexual orientation is prohibited, unless such processing falls under one of the exemptions provided for in Article 9(2) GDPR. Under, Article 9(2)(e) GDPR, one of these exemptions is when the personal data is made manifestly public by the data subject.

The Advocate General pointed out that the use of the adverb ‘manifestly’ and the fact that this provision is an exemption to the general prohibition requires a particularly stringent application of that exemption. The data subject must be fully aware that by an explicit act they are making their personal data accessible to anyone (§35 of the Opinion). In the present case, the sensitive data was disclosed outside the Facebook platform and outside any other platform or computer application.

The CJEU ruled that clicking on ‘Like’ or ‘Share’ buttons does not make the data resulting from the clicking manifestly public (CJEU, Meta Platforms and Others). The Advocate General made a distinction between (i) whether the data subject’s statement on his sexual orientation constitutes an act by which he manifestly made public that sexual orientation and (ii) if the response is affirmative, whether this permits the processing of this personal data for personalised advertising purposes (§39 of the Opinion).

On the first question, the Advocate General noted that Article 9(2)(e) GDPR requires two conditions to be met: an ‘objective’ condition that the personal data must be ‘manifestly made public’ and a ‘subjective’ condition that ‘the data subject’ makes it manifestly public (§41 of the Opinion). Regarding the first condition, he considered that in the present case, the panel discussion was broadcast live and then as a stream and the subject addressed at the panel was of public interest. Therefore, the data subject’s statement may have reached an indefinite public, much wider than that in attendance (§42 of the Opinion). Regarding the second condition, he held that it was possible to assume that the data subject had full awareness of making that orientation manifestly public, in particular in the context of an event which was open and accessible to the press (§43 of the Opinion).

The Advocate General also noted that although once the ‘protected’ personal data has been manifestly made public, it becomes ‘ordinary’ data, it must still however be processed lawfully under the conditions laid down in Articles 6 and 7 GDPR, and in compliance with the principles of Article 5 GDPR (§46 of the Opinion).

Therefore, a statement made by a data subject about their own sexual orientation during a panel discussion open to the public may constitute an act by which the data subject has manifestly made public those data under Article 9(2)(e) GDPR. However, this does not in itself permit the processing of those data with a view to aggregating and analysing the data for the purpose of personalised advertising.


The decision has not been adopted yet.


In paragraphs 46 and 47, the Advocate General makes an interesting point by highlighting that when the data subject manifestly made public the initially 'protected' data becomes 'ordinary'. However, this personal data must still be processed under the conditions set out Articles 5, 6 and 7 GDPR.

This illustrates a multi-layered protection between Article 9 and Articles 5, 6 and 7: once the protection of Article 9 falls, the personal data remains protected under the other Articles.

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