European Watchdogs To Tackle Social Media Data Harvesting

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

‘Sorry is not enough’ say European watchdogs as they form working group to data collection by social media

European Union privacy watchdogs have warned they will examine the harvesting of personal data from social networks for economic or political purposes.

The move follows the Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal that has affected 87 million Facebook users.

The outrage from that scandal is so great that CEO Mark Zuckerberg has had to testify over a two day period to two different US Senate committees.

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The Working Party 29 (WP29) is the group uniting European data protection authorities across the continent.

It started off by saying that “sorry is not enough” in reference to the repeated public apologies offered by Zuckerberg over the matter.

The European watchdogs announced “its full support for the ongoing investigations by national privacy authorities into the collection and use of personal data by and through social media.”

The UK’s Information Commissioners Office (ICO) is leading the European probe into the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

“In addition, the WP 29 will create a Social Media Working Group to develop a long-term strategy on the issue,” it warned.

We reiterate our earlier commitment to assist and fully cooperate with the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in its investigation of Cambridge Analytica and Facebook,” said Andrea Jelinek, Chair of Working Party 29. “We are also committed to work closely together through our existing Facebook Contact Group and speak with one voice.”

We are at the start of a new era of data protection,” said Jelinek, referring to the imminent arrival of the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in May. “The protection of individuals against unlawful use of their personal data on social media platforms will be one of our key priorities.”

Sorry not enough

“A multi-billion dollar social media platform saying it is sorry simply is not enough,” Jelinek added. “While Cambridge Analytica and Facebook are on top of everyone’s mind we aim to cast our net wider and think long-term. This is why we are creating a Social Media Working Group. What we are seeing today is most likely only one instance of the much wider spread practice of harvesting personal data from social media for economic or political reasons.”

“WP29 is fully aware, however, that the issue is broader and concerns other actors, such as app developers and data brokers,” she said. “The work of this Social Media Working Group will continue after the establishment of the European Data Protection Board. The EDPB will have a wide range of competences in order to ensure the consistency of the application of the GDPR.”

The landmark GDPR rules will come into force in the EU on 25 May.

It gives Europeans the right to know what data is stored on them and the right to have it deleted.

Under the new law, companies will need the explicit consent of users before using their data and they will have to be more specific about how they use it.

Companies who break the law could face fines of up to 4 percent of their annual global turnover.

Mark Zuckerberg seemed to be initially reluctant to roll GDPR to Facebook users outside of Europe, but has now admitted that GDPR will be delivered worldwide in one form or another.

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