Privacy watchdog denies failing to tackle Facebook due to jobs fear
IRELAND’S privacy watchdog has denied it is not doing enough to protect Facebook users after a European lobby group claimed the country was too interested in protecting multinational jobs to tackle the social network.
Pressure group Europe-v-facebook plans to go to court in Ireland, where the company has its international headquarters, to appeal against decisions by the data protection commissioner.
"The Irish obviously have no great political interest in going up against these companies because they're so dependent on the jobs they create," said Europe-v-facebook founder Max Schrems.
However, Gary Davies, Ireland's deputy data protection commissioner, denied Facebook's investment in Ireland had influenced regulation of the company.
"We have handled this in a highly professional and focused way and we have brought about huge changes in the way Facebook handles personal data," he said.
Europe-v-facebook has won some concessions from Facebook, notably pushing it to switch off its facial recognition feature in Europe.
But the group said the changes did not go far enough and it was disappointed with the response of the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which had carried out an audit after the campaign group filed numerous complaints.
"The latest Data Protection report demonstrates not only how Facebook adheres to European data protection law but also how we go beyond it, in achieving best practice," a Facebook spokesman said.
"Nonetheless we have some vocal critics who will never be happy whatever we do and whatever the DPC concludes."
Schrems, who has filed 22 complaints with the Irish regulator, said more than 40,000 Facebook users who had requested a copy of the data Facebook was holding on them had not received anything several months after making a request.
The law student also questioned why Facebook had only switched off facial recognition for users in the European Union, even though Ireland is the headquarters for all of Facebook's users outside the United States and Canada.
Facebook is under pressure to reverse a trend of slowing revenue growth by selling more valuable advertising, which requires better profiling of its users.
Investors are losing patience with the social network, whose shares have dropped 40pc in value since the company's record-breaking $104 billion initial public offering in May.
Last month, Facebook proposed to combine its user data with that of its recently acquired photo-sharing service Instagram, loosen restrictions on emails between its members and share data with other businesses and affiliates that it owns.
Facebook is also facing a class-action lawsuit in the United States, where it is charged with violating privacy rights by publicising users' "likes" without giving them a way to opt out.
A US judge late yesterday gave his preliminary approval to a second attempt to settle the case by paying users up to $10 (€7.60) each out of a settlement fund of $20m (€15.2m).
Ireland also hosts the European headquarters of other high-tech firms including Microsoft and Google thanks to generous tax breaks.
Europe-v-facebook said it believed its Irish lawsuit had the potential to become a test case for data protection law and had a good chance of landing up in the European Court of Justice.
Schrems said the case could cost the group around €100,000, which it hoped to raise via crowd-funding - money provided by a collection of individuals - on the Internet.