Irish Facebook users unlikely to be hit by fresh data fears

People here are unlikely to be affected by fresh privacy protection concerns over Facebook after revelations that the social media giant has put 1.5bn accounts beyond the reach of new EU data protection rules.

Under the rules, internet firms will face greater restrictions on what they can do with an individual’s online information.

The move is detailed in the EU’s general data protection regulation law, which will come into force on May 25.

It was expected that the law would offer greater protection to people in Europe as well as Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America because of linked laws due to be introduced in response to the EU decision.

However, in a statement yesterday, Facebook confirmed that non-EU areas will not fall under the EU law’s protection due to measures taken by the company.

The move is unlikely to affect Irish users of the site. However, it is expected the change will affect more than two thirds of Facebook’s worldwide users, causing fresh problems for the company whose European base is in Dublin.

In a statement yesterday, Facebook played down the importance of the terms of service change, saying it plans to make the privacy controls and settings EU citizens will get under the new law available to the rest of the world.

“We apply the same privacy protections everywhere, regardless of whether your agreement is with Facebook Inc or Facebook Ireland,” the company said.

However, the lack of certainty on what protections will be in place has led to fresh questions from politicians and interest groups over the level of data protection and privacy on Facebook.

News of the development comes after Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and senior officials were grilled in the US, Britain, and Ireland over the use of individuals’ private information.

In public meetings with politicians in all three countries, Facebook representatives said they were taking all appropriate steps to protect individuals’ data and to ensure it is not misused or accessed without the permission of that person.

The questioning was based on revelations the November 2016 election of US president Donald Trump and the June 2016 Brexit vote in Britain may have been influenced by data firm Cambridge Analytica, which allegedly accessed Facebook users’ data in order to encourage them to vote certain ways.

Because Facebook’s European base is in Dublin, Ireland is seen as being a key player in addressing the ongoing data protection issues at the social media giant.

Speaking to the Dáil communications committee earlier this week, Facebook vice-president of global public policy, John Kaplan, said the company believes up to 87m people’s information was wrongly accessed by Cambridge Analytica.

Mr Kaplan said that while most of the people impacted by the data breach were predominantly in the US, up to 44,687 people in Ireland may have been impacted.

“It’s clear now that we didn’t do enough to prevent these tools from being used for harm as well,” he said.

“We didn’t take a broad enough view of our responsibility, and that was a mistake. It’s not enough to give people control of their information, we have to make sure that developers who get users’ consent to access data are protecting it too.”


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