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23rd Mar 2023

New EU privacy rules to benefit Facebook users globally

  • Facebook estimated that the data of up to 87 million people worldwide 'may have been improperly shared' with the UK consulting firm Cambridge Analytica. A million of those were UK users (Photo: Anthony Quintano)

New privacy rules coming into effect in the EU next month are "very positive", said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday (4 April) – announcing that they will have an effect beyond Europe.

He spoke to reporters via a conference call to discuss the various issues that have put the social networking giant in a bad light recently, like fake news and the use of data by Cambridge Analytica.

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  • 'I'm confident that we are making progress against these adversaries,' said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about those who spread fake news (Photo: Anthony Quintano)

Zuckerberg rejected a story published by news agency Reuters which headlined that only European Facebook users would benefit from the EU's new general data protection regulation (GDPR).

"Overall, I think regulations like the GDPR are very positive," said Zuckerberg.

"I was somewhat surprised by yesterday's Reuters story that ran on this. The reporter asked me if ... we were planning on running the controls for GDPR across the world and my answer was yes."

The GDPR, which will come into force on 25 May, will constitute a major overhaul of privacy rules that will impact all companies handling personal data.

It will give new rights to EU citizens, like the right to know what personal data a company has collected, and the right to receive a copy of that data. It will also enshrine in EU law the so-called right to be forgotten, and will give consumers a right to transfer their data from one service provider to a similar one.

The regulation is unique in the world, but has the possibility of setting a global standard because it will apply to any internet company that targets European consumers.

Facebook's boss implied that non-Europeans will also benefit from the new rules.

"We intend to make all the same controls and settings available everywhere, not just in Europe," he said.

"Is it going to be exactly the same format? Probably not. We need to figure out what makes sense in different markets for the different laws in different places," he added.

Fake news

During the conference call, Zuckerberg said the company and he himself had made mistakes in underestimating the impact of fake news.

"I clearly made a mistake by just dismissing fake news as crazy as having an impact," he said.

"I should never have referred to it as crazy, this is clearly a problem that requires careful work."

The co-founder of the social media platform went on to say that Facebook was working hard to fight the spread of disinformation, in particular during election campaigns.

"A few months after the 2016 [US] elections there were the French presidential elections and leading up to that we deployed some new AI [artificial intelligence] tools that took down more than 30,000 fake accounts," he said, adding that the company also cooperated with local authorities in Germany during its elections last year.

Russia

Zuckerberg specifically mentioned Russia several times as a source of fake news, and said there would never be a solution to disinformation.

"As long as there are people employed in Russia who have the job of trying to find ways to exploit these systems, this is going to be a never-ending battle. You never fully solve security," said Zuckerberg, likening it to an arms race.

"In retrospect we were behind and we didn't invest enough in it upfront. We had thousands of people working on security but nowhere near the 20,000 that we are going to have by the end of this year," he noted.

"I'm confident that we are making progress against these adversaries. But they are very sophisticated, and it would be a mistake to assume that you can ever fully solve a problem like this or like that they are ever going to give up and stop trying to do what they are doing."

Cambridge Analytica

Shortly before the conference call began, the company published a blog post about the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook estimated that the data of up to 87 million people worldwide "may have been improperly shared" with the UK consulting firm accused of manipulating election behaviour with Facebook data.

A graphic published in the post said that up to 1 million UK users could be affected. The UK was the only European country featured in the graphic, but only because other European countries were not in the top ten most-affected countries.

National media reports said that 309,815 German users were affected; 214,123 Italians users; 211,600 French users; and 90,000 Dutch users.

Zuckerberg stressed that the estimate represented a guess of the maximum number of affected people, and that the actual number may be lower.

Will Zuckerberg come to Europe?

He announced that he would be testifying in the US Congress.

"I imagine that that is going to cover a lot of ground. I'm going to be sending one of our top folks ... to answer additional questions from countries in other places."

Zuckerberg was referring to Facebook's chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer and chief product officer Chris Cox.

This website asked a Facebook spokeswoman to clarify if Zuckerberg has turned down an invitation by European Parliament president Antonio Tajani to testify in the EU parliament. She said that the company had not yet made a decision on that.

Meanwhile, a delegation of MEPs was received by Facebook in Silicon Valley on Thursday.

Irish MEP Sean Kelly tweeted that they once again invited Zuckerberg to come to the European Parliament.

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