Yesterday, all of Facebook’s troubles seemed so far away, now it looks as though they are here to stay after the Canadian data protection authority confirmed it is taking the social media giant to court over a litany of privacy law breaches.
Having shrugged off its woes – including setting aside $3bn (£2.33bn) for a potential fine from US authorities – to report new user and advertising growth in its Q1 results, the move is likely to pile the pressure back on the company.
The Canadian case harks back to the Cambridge Analytica scandal over data-harvesting app “This is Your Digital Life”. It has seen Canadian Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien join forces with British Columbia regulator Michael McEvoy to investigate the roles of Facebook and the Canadian company AggregateIQ in the controversy.
Therrien said: “Canadians are at risk because the protections offered by Facebook are essentially empty. They say that they are accountable. We have seen in this instance that they were not accountable.”
The regulators’ joint report accuses Facebook of failing to obtain valid and meaningful consent of users who had installed the app; failing to obtain meaningful consent from friends of installing users; having inadequate safeguards to protect user information; and failing to be accountable for the user information under its control.
Facebook has acknowledged a “major breach of trust”, but fiercely disputes the Canadian report. The company has also refused to agree to voluntarily audits of its privacy policies and practices over the next five years. Earlier this month, it was revealed that the Canadian authorities will monitor Equifax for the next six years, following its 2017 data breach.
The commissioners say they will now take the matter to Federal Court to seek an order to force the company to change its privacy practices.
Therrien added: “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.”
In response, Facebook Canada said: “After many months of good-faith cooperation and lengthy negotiations, we are disappointed that the OPC considers the issues raised in this report 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.
“We understand our responsibility to protect people’s personal information, which is why we’ve proactively taken important steps towards tackling a number of issues raised in the report and worked with the OPC to offer additional concrete measures we can take to address their recommendations, which includes offering to enter into a compliance agreement.”
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