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Facebook Fights Canadian Court’s Privacy Verdict

“lacking impartiality” “not independent” and “Improper”, these are just a few of the accusations Facebook has thrown at Canada’s privacy chief and his investigation into the corporation. Facebook stands accused of inadequately protecting their user’s data and allowing this info to fall into the hands of unethical political and corporate interests.

Facebook has in response doubled down, calling into question the entire investigation rather than answering the accusations. As it stands, the social media giant has filed for the findings to be thrown out, and the case remains ongoing.

Background to the Data Probe

This all comes after a 2019 investigation into the companies handling of Canadian citizens’ data. The results were worrying, and the privacy commissioner, Daniel Therrien, flagged several serious shortcomings in both Facebook’s usage and protection of its user’s data.

Social media platforms like Facebook are the biggest medium for violations of online privacy, and so poor security by the company itself has potentially huge ramifications. So bad were the findings, that Therrien even suggested further legislation to combat the issue.

The Privacy Chief’s Findings

One of the biggest concerns was Facebook allowing an outside organization (who had no oversight from Facebook) to access personal user data. The app that was the vehicle for this data gathering was known as “This Is Your Digital Life”, a quiz app that asked gathered personal data from nearly 300,000 users who lacked effective iOS VPNs.

Whilst a small number in proportion to the total number of Facebook users, the app was also able to access the data of their Facebook friends, leading to an additional 87 million user’s data being collected.

Privacy Chief claims: ‘Inadequate Safeguards’

This was undertaken with a serious lack of transparency and little, if any, indication given of the usage of the confidential data. The data gathered could be anything visible on a Facebook profile, such as email addresses without secure email service.

Among those who were affected were over 600,000 Canadian citizens. This data went on was passed onto Cambridge Analytica, infamous for their usage of unethically gathered data to influence elections all over the world. Facebook has already been fined for similar privacy violations.

In light of these findings, the privacy watchdog accused Facebook of implementing ‘inadequate safeguards’, such as failing to obtain the consent of the users and their friends. In the eyes of the court, this broke the law.

Facebook’s Response to the Data Probe

In response, Facebook expressed indignation. They refused the court’s recommendations for fixing the violations, disputed the findings of the investigation, and rejected the premise that it should even have taken place. “The (commissioner) should never have investigated the complaint,” the company said, in reference to the original issues raised about possible privacy violations.

Facebook Claims the Data Probe was ‘Improper’

Facebook complained that the initial investigation was presented as a specific violation probe when it was, in fact, a broad audit of the company’s data handling practices, and the probe “did not disclose [it’s] true, sweeping scope”.

They followed this to claim that there was no evidence that misuse of Canadian citizens’ data had taken place. Furthermore, due to the investigation’s claimed disingenuous nature “…Facebook did not know the allegations it had to meet and was denied a fair opportunity to respond to the investigation.”

The Privacy Commissioners Response

Due to the fact is it an ongoing court case, the commissioner’s office did not comment on these claims. They did, however, support their earlier findings that without serious modifications to Facebook’s data privacy “there is, and will continue to be, an ongoing risk” to the data security of Canadian citizens. Given that the majority of the population continue to eschew secure VPN services, the risk seems set to remain.

Commissioner Therrien has continued to push for the federal court to declare Facebook violated the law, which would all but force the company to implement the stricter privacy policies the watchdog initially suggested.

How Will the Probe Affect Facebook?

Both Facebook and the privacy commission are standing their ground for now, and it will take the results of the ongoing court case to determine where the debate will go from here.

However, given that last year, Facebook was slammed with an FTC imposed fine of 5 billion for similar privacy violations, it seems there is a good chance the charges will stand. But conversely, it also shows Facebook has a harsh lesson in what happens when they lose, meaning they are likely to fight this case all the harder.