The UK’s Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee recently highlighted how Facebook misused its customers’ private information, breaking UK law and placing data protection at risk in future. Read the report here.
This has seen Facebook breach a number of data protection policies across the world, many of which are designed to protect a citizen’s personal information. The UK has seen cases around these infractions continuously test the ‘right to privacy’ that UK citizens enjoy as part of article 8 of the ECHR, stating that: “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.” This specific right to privacy is at the centre of the recent furore around Facebook’s data violations as presented by the DCMS Committee, who accessed a cache of internal company emails that demonstrated intentional violation of this fundamental right; contravening competition and privacy legislation.
This opens up a can of worms that – if sensitive data is released to the public – will put employees and private citizens of all backgrounds at risk. One of the biggest worries for professionals is a renewed threat of libel, defined, pursuant to the Defamation Act 2013 as something that “caused or is likely to cause serious harm to the reputation of the claimant.” As far as the courts are concerned, a simple retweet or share of the content is enough to be gauged as an endorsement, with deletion rarely solving the problem due to shares being easily traceable and almost impossible to remove – either by Facebook or its users.
The DCMS report which was delivered at the end of February explicitly called out Facebook’s insistence on opaque self-governance, likening it to “digital gangsters” and stating that the company “needs to significantly change its business model and its practices to maintain trust.” The committee went on to call for further investigation by the ICO, who previously levied the maximum fine possible of £500,000 against them as recently as October 2018 (read further).
This makes communication or sharing information across the network a risky proposition, despite Facebook’s policy manager Karim Palant asserting that: “While we still have more to do, we are not the same company we were a year ago.” Karim has committed to tripling the size of their internal data protection team and to using algorithmic and machine learning to counteract the spread of libellous material and ‘fake news’.
However, this commitment goes against recent reports by the Guardian showing that Facebook has spent time and political capital to systematically target legislators throughout the world to loosen privacy laws. These recent disclosures stemmed from the company opening a branch in the South of Ireland and their relationship with the then Taoiseach Edna Kenny, who was described as one of the “friends of Facebook”. The memo outlines how forthcoming European data legislation would be an obstacle to the company’s work and explicitly states that the forthcoming legislation is a “threat to jobs, innovation and economic growth in Europe.”
Their actions have lead to an increased call for similar investigations into the committee’s counterparts throughout the entirety of Europe and abroad.