Pri­vacy watch­dog takes Face­book to court

The Prince George Citizen - - Money - Jim BRONSKILL

OT­TAWA — Canada’s pri­vacy czar is tak­ing Face­book to court af­ter find­ing the so­cial­me­dia gi­ant’s lax prac­tices al­lowed per­sonal in­for­ma­tion to be used for po­lit­i­cal pur­poses.

A long-awaited joint re­port from pri­vacy com­mis­sioner Daniel Ther­rien and his British Columbia coun­ter­part, Michael McEvoy, un­cov­ered ma­jor short­com­ings in Face­book’s pro­ce­dures and called for stronger laws to pro­tect Canadians.

The com­mis­sion­ers ex­pressed dis­may Thurs­day that Face­book had re­buffed their find­ings and rec­om­men­da­tions.

“It is com­pletely un­ac­cept­able,” Ther­rien told a news con­fer­ence, la­ment­ing his of­fice’s lack of en­force­ment pow­ers. “I can­not, as a reg­u­la­tor, in­sist that they act re­spon­si­bly.”

Face­book in­sisted Thurs­day that it took the in­ves­ti­ga­tion se­ri­ously, en­gag­ing in months of good-faith co-oper­a­tion and lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tions, as well as of­fer­ing to en­ter into a com­pli­ance agree­ment with Ther­rien’s of­fice.

The probe fol­lowed re­ports that Face­book let an out­side or­ga­ni­za­tion use an app to ac­cess users’ per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, and that some of the data was then passed to oth­ers. Re­cip­i­ents of the in­for­ma­tion in­cluded the firm Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, which was in­volved in U.S. po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns.

The app, at one point known as This is Your Dig­i­tal Life, en­cour­aged users to com­plete a per­son­al­ity quiz but col­lected much more in­for­ma­tion about the peo­ple who in­stalled the app as well as data about their Face­book friends, the com­mis­sion­ers said.

About 300,000 Face­book users world­wide added the app, lead­ing to the po­ten­tial dis­clo­sure of the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion of ap­prox­i­mately 87 mil­lion oth­ers, in­clud­ing more than 600,000 Canadians, the re­port said.

The com­mis­sion­ers con­cluded that Face­book broke Canada’s pri­vacy law gov­ern­ing com­pa­nies by fail­ing to ob­tain valid and mean­ing­ful con­sent of in­stalling users and their friends, and that it had “in­ad­e­quate safe­guards” to pro­tect user in­for­ma­tion.

De­spite its pub­lic ac­knowl­edg­ment of a “ma­jor breach of trust” in the Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica scan­dal, Face­book dis­putes the re­port’s find­ings and re­fuses to im­ple­ment rec­om­men­da­tions, the com­mis­sion­ers said.

“Face­book’s re­fusal to act re­spon­si­bly is deeply trou­bling given the vast amount of sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion peo­ple have en­trusted to this com­pany,” Ther­rien said. “The com­pany’s pri­vacy frame­work was empty.”

McEvoy said Face­book has of­ten ex­pressed a com­mit­ment to pro­tect­ing per­sonal in­for­ma­tion, but when it comes to tak­ing con­crete ac­tions to fix trans­gres­sions, “they demon­strate dis­re­gard.”

The stark con­tra­dic­tion be­tween Face­book’s pub­lic prom­ises to mend its ways on pri­vacy and its re­fusal to ad­dress the de­fi­cien­cies – or even ac­knowl­edge that it broke the law – is ex­tremely con­cern­ing, Ther­rien said.

“Face­book should not get to de­cide what Cana­dian pri­vacy law does or does not re­quire.”

Ther­rien’s of­fice plans to ask the Fed­eral Court to force Face­book to take ac­tion.

Ther­rien re­it­er­ated his long-stand­ing call for the fed­eral govern­ment to give him author­ity to is­sue bind­ing or­ders to com­pa­nies and levy fines for non-com­pli­ance with the law. In ad­di­tion, he wants pow­ers to in­spect the prac­tices of or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Erin Tay­lor, com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ager for Face­book Canada, said the com­pany was dis­ap­pointed Ther­rien con­sid­ers the is­sues from the probe un­re­solved.

“There’s no ev­i­dence that Canadians’ data was shared with Cam­bridge An­a­lyt­ica, and we’ve made dra­matic im­prove­ments to our plat­form to pro­tect peo­ple’s per­sonal in­for­ma­tion,” Tay­lor said.

THER­RIEN

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