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Canada’s federal watchdog has very gently slapped Facebook’s wrist

Canada’s federal watchdog has very gently slapped Facebook’s wrist

The feels familiar, somehow DESPITE AN ADMIRABLE attempt to bury it underneath an avalanche of other scandals, Facebook can’t seem to get the Cambridge Analytica monkey off its back. Now Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) has found that Facebook broke the country’s privacy laws by not meaningfully seeking the consent of the site’s

The feels familiar, somehow

DESPITE AN ADMIRABLE attempt to bury it underneath an avalanche of other scandals, Facebook can’t seem to get the Cambridge Analytica monkey off its back. Now Canada’s Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) has found that Facebook broke the country’s privacy laws by not meaningfully seeking the consent of the site’s users before spilling their likely-voting behaviour to third parties.

At the time, Facebook’s Paul Grewal stated that the only people impacted were “users who chose to sign up to his [Aleksandr Kogan’s] app, and everyone involved gave consent.” At a push that may have applied to the 272 Canadians who played the personality quizzes, but not the 622,000 who regulators found had had their data scraped purely by association with those that did.

“The protections offered by Facebook are essentially empty,” said Canadian privacy commissioner Daniel Therrien at a press conference, attended by Motherboard.

Anyone expected Facebook to appear visibly chastened by this just hasn’t been paying attention. “They told us outright they do not agree with our legal findings,” Therrien said. “For a company to be able to say to a regulator, ‘Thank you very much for your opinion, but we’re going to continue like we did before,’ is entirely unacceptable.”

Unacceptable, but somewhat predictable given past form. Alas, the Canadian court doesn’t have much power to impose financial penalties – with previous fines hitting the tens of thousands of dollars. To a company of Facebook’s wealth, that’s slightly less significant than the average person dropping a particularly worn penny piece a minute before it goes out of circulation.

“There’s no real conclusion; there’s no consequence to my finding that they’ve acted contrary to their accountability towards their users,” Therrien said, somewhat defeatedly.

Facebook has a slightly different spin on this, as you might expect. “After many months of good-faith cooperation and lengthy negotiations, we are disappointed that the OPC considers the issues raised in this report unresolved,” the company wrote in a statement.

“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. 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.”

Over a year on, and the shadow of Cambridge Analytica continues to dog Facebook. Having failed to bury it with fresh, new scandals, maybe a controversy-free period might prove more effective? µ

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Susan E. Lopez
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