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For large tech firms such as Facebook, at least, wouldn't it be a trivial matter for these companies to avoid EU GDPR compliance altogether?

Many big companies don't actually "sell" any tangible property directly to users, and may only sell digital subscriptions instead. These subscriptions could be paid for with a credit card, for example, regardless of what country the card is issued in.

I don't understand why any sort of EU presence would even be necessary in these cases.

For example, why couldn't Facebook just dissolve all of its EU-based subsidiaries? Since it doesn't charge anything to its users, couldn't it just carry on allowing people to sign up from EU nations since it would have no legal presence there? What exactly could the EU do short of blocking the site from being accessed?

(Please note I'm not advocating for or against GDPR, I'm just wondering how it even has any real applicability to multinationals)

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    Facebook might not be the best example for your question, because the GDPR would still apply to facebook if it had no EU-based subsidiary because of Art. 3(2). – wimh Feb 7 at 18:58
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Facebook isn't a charity. It operates in the EU on order to make money there. And yes, it makes money from advertisers, but those include EU advertisers. Facebook would be seriously hurt if it would lose those.

A second effect is the winner-takes-all effect. That is why Facebook became so big in the first place. Google+ is folding, possibly its only competitor is WeChat (due to China's protected internal market)/ Giving up the EU means giving up the biggest market. A GDPR-compliant competitor will arise in the EU if Facebook would do that. That competitor will have a larger potential market by not excluding the EU. This is an existential threat to Facebook. There is nothing inherently unique to Facebook except its size, so it cannot afford to waste that advantage. They don't want to become the next Google+. Complying with the GDPR is a small price.

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