Privacy watchdog taking Facebook to court, says company breached privacy laws

by - 3 min read

Privacy watchdog taking Facebook to court, says company breached privacy laws

by - 3 min read

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Canada’s federal privacy watchdog plans to take Facebook to court following an investigation that found the social media giant broke a number of privacy laws and failed to take responsibility for protecting Canadians’ personal information.

“Canadians are at risk because the protections offered by Facebook are essentially empty,” said Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien after releasing a blistering report into the company’s operations Thursday.

Therrien and his B.C. counterpart, Michael McEvoy, joined forces last spring to investigate the roles of Facebook and the Canadian company AggregateIQ in the scandal involving the British firm Cambridge Analytica.

Cambridge Analytica is accused of harvesting data of more than 50 million Facebook users worldwide to create social media strategies to support U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign.

B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy and Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien say that Canada is lagging behind many global communities when it comes to privacy laws. 1:33

The Canadian investigation was triggered by reports that an app called “This is Your Digital Life,” which encouraged users to complete a personality quiz, collected the information of users as well as their Facebook friends — information later used by Cambridge Analytica. Some estimates say about 87 million users worldwide had their information disclosed, including more than 600,000 Canadians.

“They say that they are accountable. We have seen in this instance that they were not accountable,” Therrien told reproters during a media conference in Ottawa Thursday.

The report said the company broke number of federal and B.C. laws by:

  • Failing to obtain valid and meaningful consent of installing users.

  • Failing to obtain meaningful consent from friends of installing users.

  • Having inadequate safeguards to protect user information.

  • Failing to be accountable for the user information under its control.

Facebook disputes probe, watchdogs say

Therriern and McEvoy said that while Facebook has publicly acknowledged a “major breach of trust,” the company disputes their investigation and refuses to implement their recommendations to address deficiencies.

“The stark contradiction between Facebook’s public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems we’ve identified — or even acknowledge that it broke the law — is extremely concerning,” said Therrien.

The commissioners said they tried to implement measures to ensure Facebook respects its privacy obligations in the future, but the company reportedly has refused to submit voluntarily to audits of its privacy policies and practices over the next five years.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada says it will now take the matter to Federal Court to seek an order to force the company to change its privacy practices.

Therrien also said his office will take down its Facebook page because it doesn’t want to be associated with the platform’s privacy rules.

Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien says that while there is a place for social media networks, but they need to be provided in a way that doesn’t harm people. 1:17

“We do not want to continue to be associated with an organization that we found is irresponsible,” he said.

Both commissioners are using Thursday’s report to call for stronger sanctioning powers for provincial and federal privacy regulators.

“The ability to levy meaningful fines would be an important starting point,” said McEvoy.

McEvoy is also looking into AggregateIQ (AIQ), the Victoria, B.C.-based marketing and software development company accused of sidestepping Brexit campaign spending limits.

The Canadian whistleblower at the centre of the scandal, Christopher Wylie, told a U.K. parliamentary committee last year that he “absolutely” believed AIQ had drawn on Cambridge Analytica’s databases for its work on the Brexit referendum.

AIQ’s founders have denied any wrongdoing.

The results of that investigation are expected later this spring.

This story originally appeared on CBC

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