Canadian privacy watchdogs taking Facebook to court over privacy failures – CTV News

Canadian privacy watchdogs taking Facebook to court over privacy failures - CTV News
Privacy watchdog taking Facebook to court, says company breached privacy laws
OTTAWA — Canadas privacy czar is taking Facebook to court after finding the social-media giants lax practices allowed personal information to be used for political purposes.

A long-awaited joint report from privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien and his British Columbia counterpart, Michael McEvoy, uncovered major shortcomings in Facebooks procedures and called for stronger laws to protect Canadians.

The federal investigation was launched in March of 2018 – and became a joint investigation a month later – in response to the international scandal involving the misuse of Facebook data by Cambridge Analytica, a British political consulting firm. The scandal had several key Canadian connections, including the fact that Cambridge Analytica had links to a small Victoria-based firm called Aggregate IQ (AIQ). The main whistle-blower in the saga – Christopher Wylie – is also Canadian. Through a series of media interviews, Mr. Wylie spoke about his time working at Cambridge Analytica and alleged that the company and its affiliates misused personal Facebook data to influence election campaigns around the world, including the 2016 Brexit referendum and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The commissioners expressed dismay Thursday that Facebook had rebuffed their findings and recommendations.

Facebooks refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive personal information users have entrusted to this company, Privacy Commissioner of Canada Daniel Therrien told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa. Their privacy framework was empty, and their vague terms were so elastic that they were not meaningful for privacy protection. The stark contradiction between Facebooks public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems weve identified – or even acknowledge that it broke the law – is extremely concerning. The commissioners description of Facebooks position is based on meetings, discussions and written exchanges between the company and the commissioners offices.

Completely unacceptable: Canadian watchdog to take Facebook to court over privacy concerns

"It is completely unacceptable," Therrien told a news conference. "I cannot, as a regulator, insist that they act responsibly."

Facebook insisted Thursday that it took the investigation seriously, engaging in months of good-faith co-operation and lengthy negotiations, as well as offering to enter into a compliance agreement with Therriens office.

The probe followed reports that Facebook let an outside organization use an app to access users personal information, and that some of the data was then passed to others. Recipients of the information included the firm Cambridge Analytica, which was involved in U.S. political campaigns.

The Liberal government passed electoral reform measures in December that aimed to block foreign interference in federal elections. It also requires social-media companies and large websites to create a registry of political ads that states who paid for them. However the legislation did not address the widespread calls to end the current exemption political parties currently have from federal privacy legislation.

The app, at one point known as "This is Your Digital Life," encouraged users to complete a personality quiz but collected much more information about the people who installed the app as well as data about their Facebook friends, the commissioners said.

The commissioners said their offices lack the teeth to impose new Canadian fines in addition to the billions in potential penalties the company already faces worldwide and urged politicians to follow the lead of other countries by giving privacy authorities the powers needed to ensure privacy laws are respected.

About 300,000 Facebook users worldwide added the app, leading to the potential disclosure of the personal information of approximately 87 million others, including more than 600,000 Canadians, the report said.

Mr. Therrien and B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy said the reports findings and Facebooks rejection of the reports recommendations highlight critical weaknesses in Canadas current privacy protection framework and the urgent need for stronger privacy laws.

The commissioners concluded that Facebook broke Canadas privacy law governing companies by failing to obtain valid and meaningful consent of installing users and their friends, and that it had "inadequate safeguards" to protect user information.

Despite its public acknowledgment of a "major breach of trust" in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook disputes the reports findings and refuses to implement recommendations, the commissioners said.

On privacy, the Facebook CEO said it would be positive if more countries adopted regulations like those currently in place in the European Union. Canadas privacy commissioner has made similar recommendations, but the federal government has not committed to such a change.

"Facebooks refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive information people have entrusted to this company," Therrien said. "The companys privacy framework was empty."

A joint investigation by the federal and B.C. privacy commissioners found Facebook committed serious contraventions of Canadian privacy laws and claims the company is refusing to accept the findings or make requested changes.

McEvoy said Facebook has often expressed a commitment to protecting personal information, but when it comes to taking concrete actions needed to fix transgressions, "they demonstrate disregard."

The stark contradiction between Facebooks public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the deficiencies — or even acknowledge that it broke the law — is extremely concerning, Therrien said.

Facebook said this week that it expected to be fined up to U.S.$5-billion by the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations, but added the matter is ongoing and the timing is not clear.

Therrien reiterated his long-standing call for the federal government to give him authority to issue binding orders to companies and levy fines for non-compliance with the law. In addition, he wants powers to inspect the practices of organizations.

The office of Innovation Minister Navdeep Bains, the cabinet member responsible for Canadas private-sector privacy law, said the government would take concrete actions on privacy in coming weeks, but offered no specifics.

Erin Taylor, communications manager for Facebook Canada, said the company was disappointed Therrien considers the issues unresolved.

Those threats are often not covered by todays laws, and I think wed be better off if companies didnt define those policies themselves, he said.

"Theres no evidence that Canadians data was shared with Cambridge Analytica, and weve made dramatic improvements to our platform to protect peoples personal information," Taylor said.

In a conference call Wednesday, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company has a privacy-focused vision for the future of social-networking.

"We understand our responsibility to protect peoples personal information, which is why weve proactively taken important steps towards tackling a number of issues raised in the report."

Silhouettes of mobile users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018.

If the application to Federal Court is successful, it could lead to modest fines and an order for Facebook to revamp its privacy practices, Therrien said.

Mr. Zuckerberg said government regulations need to be updated to address the threat of foreign interference in election campaigns.

In contrast, a U.S. Federal Trade Commission investigation of Facebook in relation to the Cambridge Analytica scandal could result in a multibillion-dollar fine.

British Columbia Privacy Commissioner Michael McEvoy looks on as Canadas Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien (right) speaks during a news conference, Thursday, April 25, 2019 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

“The stark contradiction between Facebook’s public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems we’ve identified — or even acknowledge that it broke the law — is extremely concerning.”

Canadas privacy czar is taking Facebook to court after finding the social-media giants lax practices allowed personal information to be used for political purposes.

Canada's federal privacy watchdog plans to take Facebook to court following an investigation that found the social media giant broke a number of privacy laws and failed to take responsibility for protecting Canadians' personal information.

Despite its public acknowledgment of a “major breach of trust” in the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook disputes the report’s findings and refuses to implement recommendations, the commissioners said in a news release.

"Canadians are at risk because the protections offered by Facebook are essentially empty," said Privacy Commissioner Daniel Therrien after releasing a blistering report into the company's operations Thursday.

The app, at one point known as “This is Your Digital Life,” encouraged users to complete a personality quiz but collected much more information about the people who installed the app as well as data about their Facebook friends.

Therrien and his B.C. counterpart, Michael McEvoy, joined forces last spring to investigate the roles of Facebook and the Canadian company AggregateIQ in the scandal involving the British firm Cambridge Analytica.

OTTAWA — Canada’s federal privacy commissioner says he’s taking Facebook to court to enforce privacy laws on the social-media giant, following a major leak of personal data that was later used for political purposes.

Cambridge Analytica is accused of harvesting data of more than 50 million Facebook users worldwide to create social media strategies to support U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign.

The report released Thursday said about 300,000 Facebook users worldwide added the app, leading to the potential disclosure of the personal information of approximately 87 million others, including more than 600,000 Canadians.

The Canadian investigation was triggered by reports that an app called "This is Your Digital Life," which encouraged users to complete a personality quiz, collected the information of users as well as their Facebook friends — information later used by Cambridge Analytica.

“Facebook’s refusal to act responsibly is deeply troubling given the vast amount of sensitive personal information users have entrusted to this company,” said federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien.

The report estimates about 87 million users worldwide had their information disclosed, including more than 600,000 Canadians.

“If we go before the Federal Court, it will be able to order Facebook to change its practices,” Daniel Therrien said in a news conference Thursday. The court has powers Therrien said he wishes he had.

"They say that they are accountable. We have seen in this instance that they were not accountable," Therrien told reproters during a media conference in Ottawa Thursday.

A long-awaited joint report from Therrien and B.C. privacy commissioner Michael McEvoy found major shortcomings in Facebook’s practices and called for stronger laws to protect Canadians.

Facebook has publicly acknowledged a "major breach of trust," but vehemently disputes the Canadian report.

Canada's federal privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien expressed dismay that Facebook has rebuffed their findings and legal recommendations.

"After many months of good-faith cooperation and lengthy negotiations, we are disappointed that the OPC considers the issues raised in this report unresolved. There's no evidence that Canadians' data was shared with Cambridge Analytica, and we've made dramatic improvements to our platform to protect people's personal information," said Erin Taylor, communications manager for Facebook Canada, in an email.

“It is completely unacceptable,” Therrien said. “I cannot, as a regulator, insist that they act responsibly.”

"We understand our responsibility to protect people's personal information, which is why we've proactively taken important steps towards tackling a number of issues raised in the report and worked with the OPC to offer additional concrete measures we can take to address their recommendations, which includes offering to enter into a compliance agreement."

“Their privacy framework was empty, and their vague terms were so elastic that they were not meaningful for privacy protection.

"The stark contradiction between Facebook's public promises to mend its ways on privacy and its refusal to address the serious problems we've identified — or even acknowledge that it broke the law — is extremely concerning," said Therrien.

The commissioners said they tried to implement measures to ensure Facebook respects its privacy obligations in the future, but the company reportedly has refused to submit voluntarily to audits of its privacy policies and practices over the next five years.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada says it will now take the matter to Federal Court to seek an order to force the company to change its privacy practices.

Therrien also said his office will take down its Facebook page because it doesn't want to be associated with the platform's privacy rules.

"We do not want to continue to be associated with an organization that we found is irresponsible," he said.

Both commissioners are using Thursday's report to call for stronger sanctioning powers for provincial and federal privacy regulators.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould said the government is open to bringing in regulations and "all options are on the table." But with an October election fast approaching, Gould is left with little legislative runway.

"We understand that the time of self-regulation is coming to an end. Governments around the world are realizing and understanding, as are citizens around the world, as to how these social media companies, these digital platforms, have been using data and how they have also been manipulated by malicious actors."

"This Liberal government's cozy relationship with the American tech giants and their lobbyists means that they always put Canadians' privacy rights second. We need a government that will be willing to implement the all-party recommendations of the Ethics Committee and stand up to the web giants and their disregard for Canadian law," said Angus, the party's ethics critic.

"It's wrong that the Liberals and Conservatives always prefer to let private companies self-regulate instead of requiring them to do the right thing by putting the safety and privacy of Canadians before profits."

McEvoy is also looking into AggregateIQ (AIQ), the Victoria, B.C.-based marketing and software development company accused of sidestepping Brexit campaign spending limits.

The Canadian whistleblower at the centre of the scandal, Christopher Wylie, told a U.K. parliamentary committee last year that he "absolutely" believed AIQ had drawn on Cambridge Analytica's databases for its work on the Brexit referendum.

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