Facebook expects new regulations in response to news that London-based data mining firm Cambridge Analytica was sold uncontrolled access to user data that was used to influence US and UK voting.
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The two companies have come under intense media, regulatory and legal scrutiny after a whistleblower alleged improper practices in collecting and sharing data belonging to more than 50 million users.
The commerce committee of the US Congress reportedly plans to summon Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to offer an explanation and the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office has started an investigation into the use of personal data for political campaigns.
The ICO investigation aims to determine whether private data was illicitly exploited for political campaigns – not only in the 2016 US presidential election, but also in the UK, as Cambridge Analytica reportedly also used its influence during the UK’s referendum on leaving the EU.
Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg broke their silence on the issue and apologised only after fallout from the scandal wiped off more than $50bn in stock market value, claiming they had not spoken earlier because they had needed time “to get to the bottom of this”, despite reportedly knowing of the issue since 2015.
Anticipating calls for tighter regulation, Sandberg said in an interview with CNBC’s Closing Bell programme that Facebook is open to regulation and works with lawmakers around the world, reiterating Zuckerberg’s statement that it is not a question whether there will be more regulation – “it’s a question of what type”.
“We know this is an issue of trust. We know this is a critical moment for our company, for the service we provide. We are going to do everything we can,” she said, recognising people’s trust is the “most important thing” Facebook has.
Sandberg was speaking just hours after Privacy International issued a briefing paper that described the current lack of transparency into how companies are using people’s data as “unacceptable, and called for “stringent safeguards” to protect personal data from unauthorised exploitation.
The group said reform should not be limited to individual companies, warning that consumers are confronted with a “hidden ecosystem” of organisations harvesting and sharing data. “From credit scoring and insurance quotations to targeted political communication, this data is being used for far-reaching purposes,” the organisation said.
Privacy International has outlined seven actions UK policy makers should take, including changes to the UK Data Protection Bill, which it said contains a number of “problematic provisions”, such as allowing registered political parties to process personal data “revealing political opinions” for the purposes of their political activities. Privacy International has called for this to be revised, and proposed several other amendments.
Meanwhile, a US citizen is taking Cambridge Analytica to court in the UK to get access to data it holds on him. David Carroll also wants Cambridge Analytica to disclose how it came up with the psychographic profile it had on him, reports the BBC. Legal experts believe the case could set a precedent for how such companies collect data.