Facebook has grown into a massive force to be reckoned with in the world of internet giants, and yet it seems like this giant may have finally met some boundaries that it can’t break through. At the moment the social networking website is facing quite a bit of negative feedback from Europe in the form of privacy concerns. Various news articles suggest that the flack is coming from government regulators within the countries of France, Spain and Italy who are worried that Facebook has been collecting and sharing data that shouldn’t be shared.
Some of the sharing, which is being protested, is between Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other services to help target ads more suitably for individual users. They are also tracking browsing activity using the “Like” button. This has alerted other countries such as Belgium and Germany to begin investigations outside of the standard Ireland investigations which have been made in the past.
What This Means For Facebook
While it is still up in the air as to whether or not these investigations will amount to little more than some upset users and a few possible regulation changes by point of Facebook, if these allegations do land in the area of unlawfulness, the internet giant could be facing millions of euros worth of fines as well as other legalities strapping down some of their current sharing policies. Wall Street Journal explains:
The new Facebook probes will vary by country. France, for instance, just last month decided to join the group of regulators pursuing Facebook, and the regulator says it is mounting a serious investigation. Italy’s regulator, however, says it has joined the group probing Facebook, but won’t conduct its own investigation.
At the moment, Facebook is trying to avoid negative confrontation and is succeeding by skirting government regulators in other European countries with the claim that Ireland should be the only data regulator processing such claims at the moment. Unfortunately, for Facebook, the situation isn’t looking good in terms of Ireland coming to its defense anytime soon.
Following Up With Facebook
Although Facebook hasn’t said too much about the situation as of yet and is playing its cards close to its chest, a representative has reported that Facebook is following the regulations in place by the data protection laws of Europe to date. They have also said that they work closely with the Irish Data Protection Commissioner to be certain that no rules are being broken. CNET says:
Facebook has asserted it has not yet been contacted by the regulators in France, Spain or Italy about their investigations. The company declined to respond to questions it received from the privacy regulator in Germany, citing a lack of jurisdiction, according to the German regulator.
Facebook has been hit in the past on privacy laws, and even in countries like Canada and the United States, the privacy of users has been questioned time and time again with no end in sight. It may be that Facebook is utilizing strategically placed loopholes, or that the laws are simply not strict enough for the social media site to have to adhere to what these governing regulators are asking of them.
Walking A Fine Line
The line between obstruction of privacy and the general use of information for marketing purposes may be very fine, but Facebook is not the only company in the world that collects data in this way to use for advertising and other purposes. Google has also been called out a time or two for its methods of data collection, but is still using practices that have been in place for years. CNN reports:
In a separate class action against Facebook, roughly 25,000 Europeans accused Facebook of not respecting their privacy rights and sharing their data with third parties. Facebook, which has around 300 million users in Europe, said it follows European privacy laws.
It can be difficult for consumers reading these news reports to understand exactly what Facebook and other internet giants are doing taking this information from their private feeds, but comments from social media management teams have made it clear that all data being collected is used for innocent marketing purposes rather than anything nefarious.
Why Europe Seems So Interested
Aside from the concept that privacy concerns are important to everyone the world over, it does seem odd that Europe is only now jumping on Facebook with these allegations. This has left many to wondering about their sudden interest in United States based internet companies, and the answer seems fairly clear that this is personal. The New York Times says:
Advocates say this approach is aimed at limiting the dominance of a small number of companies, though industry executives say Europe is using the investigations to promote the region’s own tech companies, which often have been unable to compete with their United States rivals.
If European countries can knock some of the American giants down a peg their ability to grow their own internet giants would be more of a possibility. At the moment, the press is ready to exploit any and all information they can gain access to as new details emerge on this story. This gives ample opportunity to European tech companies to get their name out, not only in their own continent, but also across the divide as they begin to attempt investigations into privacy and other complaints.
Due to all of the flak they are receiving over the said complaints, Facebook has announced a list of tips for internet users to make their Facebook experience more secure. This includes subjects such as password protection, and recognizing fishing from external sources for personal data including passwords. These lessons are delivered as modules which are currently accessible in 40 languages worldwide. They can be retrieved via PC, tablet, or smart phone and the social media company is also working on making their transparency reports more visually accessible to those who wish to view them. Whether or not these tools make a difference to the sharable information Facebook is provided with is unclear, but with more than 250 million people using Facebook, it doesn’t seem to faze the public as much as they might let on.