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4th Dec 2021

Facebook threatened with removal from EU-US data pact

  • Mark Zuckerberg is in Brussels to testify before the European Parliament on Tuesday. (Photo: Anthony Quintano)

The European Commission has suggested the United States suspend social media giant Facebook from a data-transfer sharing pact with the EU if it breached privacy laws.

Vera Jourova, the EU justice commissioner, told reporters in Brussels last week that the US firm could be de-listed from the 'Privacy Shield' pact.

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Privacy Shield allows US companies to transfer and use data of EU nationals for commercial ends - on the basis they adequately respect European law.

The commissioner is pushing US authorities to investigate whether Facebook and Cambridge Analytica breached Privacy Shield rules.

"If so then we expect the action on the American side," she said on Thursday (17 May), noting that violations "could be the suspension of the participation of the company" from Privacy Shield.

The social network said some 87 million users have had their data improperly shared with Cambridge Analytica. Some of the data was then reportedly used to sway people in the United Kingdom to leave the European Union in the lead up to Britain's Brexit referendum vote.

"We will understand hopefully in short time what are the roles of the different actors and what breaches happened," she said.

Privacy Shield is supposed to be enforced by the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC). But the FTC has a poor enforcement track record.

US authorities have also yet to fully implement Privacy Shield, after its predecessor Safe Harbour was scrapped by the European Court of Justice late 2015.

Jourova's comments are timely.

On Tuesday (22 May), Facebook's CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before the senior leadership at the European Parliament in Brussels, in a session which will also be livestreamed.

Heads of various European parliament political parties, including the president of the assembly, will be demanding Zuckerberg account for Facebook's role in people handing over their data to Cambridge Analytica.

The meeting had initially be planned as a closed door event but will now be publicly livestreamed on the European Parliament's website following pressure from left leaning and liberal political parties.

Zuckerberg is expected to tell the parliament heads that his company had not done enough to prevent harm, according to US media outlets, which have seen his prepared remarks.

"Whether it's fake news, foreign interference in elections or developers misusing people's information, we didn't take a broad enough view of our responsibilities," he will say, according to NBC news.

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