Sunday 18 February 2018

Facebook may now have to wait for Irish data ruling

Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon
Irish Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon
Adrian Weckler

Adrian Weckler

The Irish Data Protection Commissioner says that it will be "months" before her office decides whether Facebook's controversial move to share data with Whatsapp is in line with Irish and European law.

"We have been engaged with them since Whatsapp announced the privacy policy change with Facebook," Helen Dixon told the Sunday Independent at the Web Summit in Lisbon. "We are still engaged in a fact-finding mission to understand what precisely the significance of that policy change was, what type of data is being transferred to Facebook Ireland and what the uses of the data are."

Facebook, which owns Whatsapp, recently tweaked the messaging service's terms so that personal data could be shared between the two services for advertising and other purposes. However, a backlash from European regulators forced the web giant to suspend its move last week. An adverse decision from Dixon's Irish office could force Facebook to drop the data transfer move or to significantly amend it.

Separately at the Web Summit, Facebook's chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer told the Sunday Independent that the company was working with the Irish office to make progress on the issue.

However, Facebook may have to wait until well into 2017 before it can start using Whatsapp users' data to sell ads on Facebook. "I think it's going to take us a couple of months to make an assessment as to whether this is compliant with Irish and European data protection law," said Dixon.

"Because we do have jurisdiction over Facebook Ireland, we want to make sure that we set about gathering the facts and that we do the analysis and application of the law carefully."

Dixon also said that it would be a matter of months before the Irish data regulator's office knows whether, or to what extent, Yahoo can be held accountable for a data breach that affected more than 500 million email users.

"We're in daily contact and in constant activity," she said. "That is the subject of significant activity for the office and is in fact a scenario that is changing day by day in terms of the information that we're gathering."

Last week, Yahoo filed a document with US authorities revealing that some staff knew of the data breach as far back as 2014.

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