Thursday

13th May 2021

EU to probe UK 'election-rigging' firm

  • MEPs and EU Commission want answers after three days of media revelations (Photo: European Parliament)

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

"Allegations of misuse of Facebook user data is an unacceptable violation of our citizens' privacy rights. The European Parliament will investigate fully, calling digital platforms to account," parliament head Antonio Tajani said in a statement on Monday (19 March).

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  • Facebook banned the UK firm from its website (Photo: portal gda)

Vera Jourova, the EU justice commissioner, said one day earlier she would quiz Facebook chiefs when she goes to the US next week.

"Horrifying, if confirmed," she said on the revelations.

"I will take all possible legal measures including stricter data protection rules and stronger enforcement granted by GDPR [an EU law on data privacy]. I expect companies to take more responsibility when handling our personal data," she said.

Jourova offered to help the UK's information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham.

Denham was already investigating allegations that Cambridge Analytica had misbehaved in Donald Trump's election in the US in 2016, amid fears that dirty tricks were also used in the UK's referendum on EU membership earlier that year.

The British data watchdog said on Monday she would apply for a warrant to look inside the firm's databases. "I'm not accepting their responses, so therefore I'll be applying to the court," Denham said.

The EU's Tajani and Jourova spoke after revelations that the company had dishonestly acquired the private data of some 50 million Facebook users, some of whom may have been EU nationals, and used it to target US voters with pro-Trump disinformation.

"We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people's profiles and built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons," Christopher Wylie, a Cambridge Analytica whistleblower, told The Observer, a British newspaper on Sunday.

Cambridge Analytica boss Alexander Nix also boasted, in a recording aired on British TV on Monday (19 March), that his firm could offer bribes and prostitutes to politicians to compromise them.

Nix told an undercover reporter he could send "some girls around to the candidate's house". Ukrainian women were "very beautiful, I find that works very well", he added.

Facebook and Cambridge Analytica have denied wrongdoing, but the US social media giant has banned the British firm from its website and launched an internal probe.

Cambridge Analytica's Nix, who said his recorded comments were just "ludicrous, hypothetical scenarios," designed to feel out a potential client, has also offered to resign.

But the revelations have damaged Facebook even before the British or EU investigations get going, with seven percent, or $40bn (€33bn), wiped off its share value on Monday when socially responsible investors led a sell-off.

"The big issue of the day around customer incidents and data is something that has been discussed among ESG [environmental, social, and corporate governance] investors for some time and has been a concern," Ron Bates, from the Socially Responsive Balanced Fund, a Facebook shareholder, told the Reuters news agency.

Facebook promises more privacy ahead of new EU rules

Speaking in Brussels, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, says the social media giant has "not done enough to stop the abuse of our technology." Her admission comes with new plans to wrestle with "bad content".

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 data chiefs rally behind UK over Cambridge Analytica

EU leaders at a Brussels summit demand social networks and digital platforms guarantee transparency and privacy. Their call comes amid growing backlash against Facebook and Cambridge Analytica over voter manipulation.

Brexit vote manipulated, says data whistleblower

Christopher Wylie told British MPs that the campaign behind getting the UK to leave the EU had used dubious methods to sway voters. He said Canadian firm Aggregate IQ was subcontracted through Cambridge Analytica to target people.

New EU fines will apply to 'old' data breaches

On 25 May, a new general data protection regulation will apply. Data breaches that happened before that date, but were covered up, can be fined under the new regulation.

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