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23rd Sep 2021

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Facebook chief 'surprisingly naive', says EU data lawmaker

  • It remains to be seen if Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will make an appearance at the European parliament (Photo: Anthony Quintano)

A chief architect of the EU's upcoming privacy rules has described Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as being "surprisingly naive".

German Green MEP Jan Phillip Albrecht, who steered the EU general data protection regulation (GDPR) - which launches on 25 May - through the European Parliament, said that Zuckerberg was only beginning to realise the impact data has on people's privacy.

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  • Albrecht: New Facebook scandal "goes far beyond data protection and privacy issues" (Photo: European Parliament)

"For me, it was surprisingly naive still how they approached all these issues," he told EUobserver in a phone interview on Thursday (12 April).

The Facebook CEO was grilled earlier this week by US congressmen following media revelations that data belonging to millions of users were harvested by Cambridge Analytica to sway US elections and the Brexit referendum.

"This goes far beyond data protection and privacy issues," said Albrecht.

Around 87 million Facebook profiles were used in the political profiling scandal. Of those, an estimated 2.7 million are European.

The European Parliament is hoping to get a similar hearing with the CEO following an earlier invitation from its president Antonio Tajani.

Albrecht said a Zuckerberg no-show and a refusal to tweak Facebook's business model would invite the European Union to figure out ways to "strengthen alternatives to this platform".

The general data protection regulation imposes stronger rules on privacy. Companies that act on the European market will have to follow it, regardless of where they are based. Massive fines and much stronger enforcement await those that fail to comply.

Albrecht said Facebook is not yet line with the GDPR when it comes to things like explicit and informed consent.

"They know that they have to be compliant at a certain moment and the GDPR plays an important role in proving that they are on the side of those who follow the rules," he said.

Connecting people at all costs, even if it kills

EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova made similar comments on Wednesday but has struggled to get the Americans to take a separate EU-US data sharing pact, known as Privacy Shield, seriously.

Her predecessor Viviane Reding, who tabled the regulation in 2012, told Facebook's chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg in a letter dated 10 April that the "theft and abuse of citizen's personal data" represents a present danger for free and open democracies.

Sandberg in January at an event in Brussels had also announced more privacy rules ahead of the GDPR.

She said plans were underway for a new privacy centre that puts "the core privacy settings for Facebook in one place and make it much easier for people to manage their data."

But her comments also come on the back of another top Facebook executive, Andrew Bosworth, who in a 2016 memo, defended the social media giant's business model of connecting people even if "it costs someone a life by exposing someone to bullies".

The broader issues of trust given the latest scandal may also undermine people's faith in Sandberg's initiatives as the social media giant bleeds users amid on-going court battles in Belgium and Ireland.

On Thursday, the Irish High Court referred a case triggered by Austrian privacy campaigner Max Schrems against Facebook's international branch in Ireland to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

The case stems back to US mass surveillance as disclosed by former NSA operative, Edward Snowden.

"The question in this case does not seem to be if Facebook can win it, but to what extent the Court of Justice will prohibit Facebook's EU-US data transfers," Schrems said in a statement.

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