Privacy Activists Doorstep Facebook Over EU Lobbying

Tom Brewster is TechWeek Europe’s Security Correspondent. He has also been named BT Information Security Journalist of the Year in 2012 and 2013.

Facebook gets a visit from activists who say it has helped cripple proposed EU privacy rules

Privacy activists called on Facebook’s London headquarters today to deliver a report which say European regulations designed to protect privacy have been crippled by recent amendments that came in response to a lobbying campaign by Facebook and other tech giants.

The report, put together by members of various UK-based bodies, including the Open Rights Group and Privacy International, said proposed amendments to the laws “threaten wholesale destruction of privacy rights” of UK citizens.

These amendments, activists say, are partly the result of pressure by lobbyists, from tech companies including Facebook, as well as Amazon and Google. Earlier this year, it emerged some MEPs appear to have taken recommendations from tech vendors and pasted them directly into their formal consultation submissions.

Facebook Richard AllanRights group hits Facebook offices

That’s why activists chose to voice their concern outside the social networking giant’s Covent Garden offices today. A report was handed directly to Richard Allan, policy and privacy manager at Facebook (pictured).

The report claimed amendments could have five particularly pernicious effects on privacy, including weakening the definition of consent from users, profiling citizens without permission and allowing personal data to be used for “all kinds of purposes”.

It also claims business interests may hold more sway than the rights of the citizen if certain amendments were accepted.

“This will allow companies unknown to citizens to process personal data relating to these citizens if the companies believe it is in their ‘best interest’ to do so. That would make an already big loophole even more broad and permit all sorts of processing without the consent of the individual,” the report read.

Facebook was in a highly conciliatory mood, telling TechWeekEurope it wanted to see changes, but ones that were proportionate.

“We want to see a regulatory regime that gives people control over their personal data while not frustrating the development of the innovative services that millions of the people in the EU love to use,” a spokesperson said.

“It is important for organisations that are experts in the areas covered by a major piece of legislation to work with politicians, just as privacy advocacy groups are working to share their expertise and opinions with the same group of politicians.”

Facebook has previously claimed there are big issues with the proposals, for instance saying that the “right to be forgotten” would impose tough technical demands on social firms.

The social networking titan has claimed the right to be forgotten  would actually result in more surveillance by Facebook. The company says it would have to track its users across the Web – so when they ask to have all their Facebook information deleted, it can find that data in all the places where the member has shared it. It would also result in more work and added costs.

Other lobbyists, including the US government, have problems with the threat of higher fines – as much as two percent of annual turnover for serious breaches of data protection law.

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