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24th Sep 2018

Facebook promises more privacy ahead of new EU rules

  • Facebook now has some 2 billion users (Photo: Derzsi Elekes Andor)

Social media giant Facebook says it is stepping up efforts to grant people greater privacy over their data ahead of new EU data protection rules.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, on Tuesday (23 January) said the firm is rolling out a new global privacy centre as part of its initiative to meet the criteria of the EU´s general data protection regulation.

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"We are rolling out a new privacy centre globally that puts the core privacy settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data," she said in Brussels.

The regulation is set for EU-wide launch in May and imposes tough rules to protect the data of EU citizens and residents. Firms that do not comply risk hefty fines.

Sandberg said the company is also launching a "new transparency and control app" that will place privacy at the core of product design.

Her statement also came ahead of an ongoing Irish court case initially triggered by Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems against Facebook Ireland.

The legal battle has major implications for data transfers to the United States and is set to be heard at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The Facebook move appears to be part of a larger policy shift following backlash against the company over Russian-led election meddling in France, the United States, and elsewhere. Russian actors had created around 80,000 posts that reached some 126 million people over a two-year period.

The US giant has since announced it would change its news feed to priorities family and friends. It wants 20,000 staff dedicated to policing content and ensuring news is more trustworthy and informative and local.

"We have to protect free expression, keep people safe, and respect privacy and we need to it in a way that works everywhere," said Sandberg.

The plan against fake news includes making Facebook ads more transparent, she said, noting that such content is most often driven by financial incentives and not just politics.

EU opposes Silicon Valley approach

The task is not easy. The amount of data shared and created along with different cultural and legal understandings of what constitutes, for instance hate speech, has critics on the edge.

Facebook alone already has some 2 billion users who daily watch around 100 million hours of video on the social platform. By 2020, it estimates 6 billion people will be online and that two in three will have a smartphone.

The European Commission is demanding Facebook, along with others, keeps removing the offending material under threat of imposing regulation. It also wants to harness such industry players in its broader strategy to create a single digital market throughout the European Union.

Speaking at the same Facebook event on Tuesday, EU digital commissioner Mariya Gabriel said the European commission would be investing some €500 million over the next five years to create digital innovation hubs.

She said the EU policy for a digital market entails the respect of privacy, net neutrality, the fight against illegal content and discrimination, and giving small firms the ability to challenge corporate domination.

"We want to decentralise creativity, we don't want to copy the Silicon Valley approach," she said.

Facebook to shift ad revenue away from Ireland

Public pressure about low corporate taxes appear to have pressured Facebook to launch plans to stop routing international ad sales through its Dublin-based headquarters in Ireland.

Data privacy chiefs wary of lagging EU states

EU data protection chiefs are worried member states won't be ready when a new wide-sweeping general data protection regulation goes live on 25 May. National laws still need to be passed to ensure data authorities can enforce the regulation EU-wide.

EU to probe UK 'election-rigging' firm

MEPs are to investigate whether UK firm Cambridge Analytica and Facebook misused private data to sway votes amid increasingly lurid revelations.

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